Chicken Run

| July 6, 2000

Set within the barbed-wire confines of the dark, bleak, garrisoned Tweedy Farm,Chicken Run quickly blossoms into one of this summer’s most vibrant comedies. Directors Peter Lord and Nick Park show a keen eye for humor, spoofing a diverse range of material from Stalag 17 to Star Trek, but the film’s biggest asset by far is its characters, the chickens, animated latex models whose faces and eyes are so wonderfully expressive (and human) you’ll swear you’re watching living, breathing creatures.
Ginger, voiced by Julia Sawalha, is the story’s heroine. A chicken who refuses to be someone else’s dinner, she is determined to escape from the Tweedy Chicken Farm, a virtual prison camp owned by Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and her husband Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth). Mr. Tweedy is an ineffectual bumbler who begins to suspect that, “The Chickens are organizing.” Mrs. Tweedy, a truly heartless woman, thinks Mr. Tweedy is going cuckoo. When Mrs.Tweedy hatches a scheme to turn all the farm’s chickens into pies, we realize that time is running out for Ginger and her fowl friends.
Help soon arrives in the form of Mel Gibson, a.k.a. Rocky the Flying Rooster. Rocky, a dashing, happy-go-lucky American, has just escaped from the circus. He literally drops from the sky into the Tweedy Farm. Witnessing Rocky’s flight, Ginger offers him a deal: she’ll hide him from his pursuing circus masters if he’ll teach her and the other hens to fly. With great reluctance but little choice, Rocky accepts.
A bruised wing keeps Rocky from flying himself, we’re told, so he sets the hens to a hilarious flight training regimen that involves calisthenics, heights, and rubber bands–all to no avail. We realize right away that none of these chickens will ever fly; they don’t have wings, only puny arms that flap futilely as they plummet off rooftops. Ever the ladies man, however, Rocky offers nonstop encouragement.
Despite Ginger’s concern over the lack of progress, all is well until Mrs. Tweedy’s chicken pie machine arrives. A massive, earthshaking metal monster, the automated pie machine means the end for all the farm’s chickens. Ginger is selected by Mr. Tweedy as a test chicken for the machine–pay back for her previous escape attempts. But Rocky conducts a daring, action-packed rescue that takes us inside the belly of the machine, saving Ginger and simultaneously sabotaging thepie machine.
The chickens are granted a brief reprieve while Mr. Tweedy attempts to fix the machine. Rocky is celebrated as a hero, and, with his wing now healed, Ginger hopes that an actual aerial demonstration will soon have everyone flying to safety. Instead, Rocky sneaks out of the farm overnight, on foot–his circus flying act involves being shot out of a cannon. He can’t fly. Ginger is crushed when she realizes the truth. For a moment, as she considers giving up, we see and feel defeat upon her.
Ginger, however, refuses to let Mrs. Tweedy and the pie machine win. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, we see the change come over her beat by beat: like a true heroine, she realizes that she alone is responsible for saving herself and the others. Vowing freedom or death, she comes up with one final, desperate scheme: the chickens will build a flying machine to carry them all to safety
“Chicken Farm” is remarkable for its many, varied characters, from the farm’s aging rooster, Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow), “a former chicken in the British Royal Air Force,” to two delightfully sympathetic traveling-salesman rats, who sneak around the Tweedy’s house, stealing whatever the chickens ask in exchange for eggs. The film gives life to all its latex animals with loving attention to detail, fully drawing us into their world and their crises. The result is a film that is funny, smart, and moving. Despite the intensity of its themes, Chicken Run is suitable for children of all ages, and more than clever enough to captivate adults as well.

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