"Chicken Run" gives those irrepressible folks at Aardman clay animation studios, the ones behind the hysterically funny "Wallace & Gromit" and "Creature Comforts" shorts, a chance to strut their stuff through their first feature-length film.
While Aardman's founders -- director-producers Peter Lord and Nick Park
and producer David Sproxton
-- clearly are still finding their way in the expanded format, they nevertheless come up with a pleasing, likable comedy that will entertain nearly all age groups. A grab bag of slapstick action, whimsical characters and tongue-in-cheek makeover of the human world into animal society, "Chicken Run" definitely has legs -- albeit of the poultry kind.
Those expecting the outrageous wit of Wallace & Gromit or the all-out wackiness of "Creature Comforts" are in for a slight disappointment. Aiming to expand their audience, Aardman's animators go for much broader characterizations and a somewhat hokey story line. But that twinkle in the eye remains. Like Pixar's "Toy Story" -- or, for that matter, all great family entertainment from Peter Pan to Dr. Seuss
-- much sophisticated humor and adult sensibilities underline the childlike fantasies.
Inspired here by "The Great Escape" and all those other POW movies, "Chicken Run"'s characters are trapped behind barbed wire with little to do other than plot endless escape attempts. Only these prisoners are chickens and their Stalag is Tweedy's Egg Farm. Supplying urgency to their conspiracies is their hard-hearted owner's determination to transform her egg farm into a chicken pie emporium.
To the seeming rescue of the alarmed hens comes a rascal rooster named Rocky, a "lone free ranger" who promises to teach these earth-bound birds how to fly. But when a cannon and other means fail this objective, he flies the coop, leaving the hens including Ginger -- with whom he has a "thing" -- in the lurch. Ever the optimist, Ginger gets an inspiration, and, in the nick of time, Rocky returns to save the day and help the chickens abandon Mrs. Tweedy
to wallow in her own pie filing.
One of the fun conceits by these British animators is to create a culture clash by casting Mel Gibson as the brash "American" Rocky, while giving all the hens British voices. The sweet-natured, visionary Ginger is voiced by Julia Sawalha
from the hit BBC comedy series "Absolutely Fabulous", while another alum from that series, Jane Horrocks
, plays Babs, forever knitting and never fully cognizant of the danger the flocks is in.
Imelda Staunton is champion egg-layer Bunty; Lynn Ferguson
plays the Scottish chicken, Mac the engineer; and Benjamin Whitrow
is Fowler, an aging rooster always willing to reminiscence about his days in the RAF. Abetting the fowl conspiracies are rats Nick and Fletcher, voiced by Timothy Spall
and Phil Daniels, who play the rodents like a pair of music hall comics.
On the human side, Miran- da Richardson supplies Mrs. Tweedy
with a mean, shrewish streak that bedevils gentle, hen-pecked Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth
) almost as much as the chickens. Mr. Tweedy greatly suspects that more is being hatched in the chicken coop than eggs, but his warnings are ignored by Mrs. Tweedy
. Which leaves him to mutter "It's all in my head" whenever he happens upon more evidence of chicken chicanery.
No one is better at clay animation than Aardman, but fashioning cartoon chickens proves quite a challenge. Their chickens are rubbery in appearance, and for all their different scarves and "hair-dos," there's an unmistakable sameness that inflicts the characters. The animators also don't yet feel comfortable with feature length; certain scenes feel padded or redundant.
Nevertheless, the pacing is brisk and only the attention spans of the very young are likely to wander. For that matter, the very young might be inappropriate for this movie. One chicken's slaughter when she fails to produce eggs is all too real for the very impressionable.
DreamWorks in association with Pathe present
an Aardman production
Producers: Peter Lord, David Sproxton
, Nick Park
Directors: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Screenplay: Karey Kirkpatrick
, Jack Rosenthal
Based on an original story by: Nick Park
, Peter Lord
Executive producers: Jake Eberts
, Jeffrey Katzenberg
, Michael Rose
Supervising director of photography: Dave Alex Riddett
Music: John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams
Line producer: Carla Shelley
Editor: Mark Solomon
Supervising animator: Loyd Price
Rocky: Mel Gibson
Ginger: Julia Sawalha
Mrs. Tweedy: Miranda Richardson
Babs: Jane Horrocks
Mac: Lynn Ferguson
Bunty: Imelda Staunton
Fowler: Benjamin Whitrow
Mr. Tweedy: Tony Haygarth
Running time -- 85 minutes
MPAA rating: G