Saturday, December 16, 2023

Review: First "CHICKEN RUN" Runs Wild at the End

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 54 of 2023 (No. 1943) by Leroy Douresseaux

Chicken Run (2000)
Running time:  84 minutes (1 hour, 24 minutes)
DIRECTORS:  Peter Lord and Nick Park
WRITERS:  Karey Kirkpatrick; from a story by Peter Lord and Nick Park
PRODUCERS:  Peter Lord, Nick Park, and David Sproxton
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dave Alex Riddett (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Mark Solomon
COMPOSERS:  Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell
BAFTA nominee


Starring:  (voices):  Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Phil Daniels, Lynn Ferguson, Tony Haygarth, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, and Benjamin Whitrow

Chicken Run is a 2000 stop-motion animated fantasy and comedy film directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park.  It is a British, French, and U.S. co-production produced by Pathe and Aardman Animations in partnership with DreamWorks Animation.  Chicken Run was Aardman's first feature-length animated film and, as of this writing, remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film in worldwide box office history.  Chicken Run is set at a British chicken farm where the chickens hope that an American chicken can help them escape the farm's vicious owners.

Chicken Run opens in post World War II England, specifically at an egg farm that is run like a prisoner-of-war camp.  The farm is owned and operated by the cruel Mrs. Malisha Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and her submissive husband, Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth), who eat and kill any chicken that is no longer able to lay eggs.  Inside the chicken yard, a rebellious chicken, Ginger (Julia Sawalha), is constantly engaged in escape attempts.  Her goal is to help all her fellow chickens escape the farm and find a new home in the land that lies behind a hill some distance from the Tweedy's farm. 

One night, Ginger witnesses a rooster glide over the coop's fences.  She learns that he is an American rooster, Rocky Rhodes (Mel Gibson), a.k.a. “Rocky the Flying Rooster” a.k.a. “Rocky the Rhode Island Red.”  Believing that Rocky can fly, Ginger begs him to help teach her and the other chickens how to fly so that they can escape the farm.  Rocky is not quite what he seems, however, and time is running out as Mrs. Tweedy has devised a new way to get more money out of the farm's large population of chickens.

I have been putting off seeing Chicken run for 23 years.  Then, I discovered that a sequel, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, was set to debut on Netflix December 15, 2023, so I decided to finally watch it.  I am a fan of the later feature-length animated films that Aardman Animations produced in partnership with DreamWorks Animation, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Flushed Away (2006).  I have also enjoyed a few of Aardman's animated short films, including A Grand Day Out with Wallace & Gromit (1989) and Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers (1993).

In the end, I like Chicken Run, not as much as I like other Aardman works I've seen.  Chicken Run takes some inspiration from director John Sturges 1963 war and adventure film, The Great Escape.  Chicken Run is also described as an adventure film, but it is really a sedate comedy and drama that only occasionally plays with its edgier elements.  Honestly, I think the storytellers under-utilize the Tweedys who are delightfully menacing and are endlessly funny as a dysfunctional couple.  The film is filled with interesting characters, inventive production design, and a novel plot, but the filmmakers seem to keep holding back the narrative's energy for the big ending – more than they need to as far as I'm concerned.

Chicken Run does not really live up to its comic and adventure potential until the last 20 minutes of the story before the end credits start.  The film suddenly seems to wind up and then explode in a final act of flying contraptions, determined poultry, and maniacal farmers.  In fact, the finale is the first time in the film that Mel Gibson's Rocky does not seem like an extraneous character.  I will try to see the sequel on Netflix, but for the time being, finally seeing Chicken Run seems to be the only run I really need to make at the story.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Saturday, December 16, 2023

2001 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (Peter Lord, David Sproxton, and Nick Park) and “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Paddy Eason, Mark Nelmes, and Dave Alex Riddett)

2001 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical”

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