Friday, October 17, 2014

Chicken Run Review

The stop motion animation studio that did the Wallace & Gromit shorts took their first stab at a full length motion picture in 2000 called Chicken Run. It was bigger and more elaborate than any of the short films they had done before, and it truly was a remarkable feat of clay animation. It also conveniently happened to be a good movie on top of that.
Having been hopelessly repressed and facing eventual certain death at the chicken farm where she is held, Ginger the chicken (Julia Sawalha) has tried increasingly elaborate and desperate plans to escape. The farm’s owners Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson, respectively) keep their chickens under close surveillance to prevent any escapes. It’s not until Ginger sees a smooth-talking Rhode Island Red rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson), who literally lands in their midst from out of the sky, that Ginger hatches the idea that the imprisoned chickens could fly away. Rocky needs to wait for his broken wing to mend before he can actually demonstrate how he flew, but time is running out as Mrs. Tweedy decides to move from selling eggs to selling chicken pot pies.
This really was an amazing bit of animation, mostly thanks to the difference in size between the chicken characters and the human ones. The chicken characters are very articulate puppets and the puppets for them were probably around a foot in height. The Tweedys were proportionately larger than the chicken characters, and since the puppets are made out of clay, they would have had to be remarkably heavy and very difficult to articulate. It’s probable that there were foot-tall versions of the human characters when scenes featured only them, but there are several scenes where they interact with the chicken puppets and huge puppets would be needed to interact with them. Consider how the villain Oogie-Boogie in The Nightmare Before Christmas was a large clay puppet that moved and danced seemingly effortlessly. The puppet, itself, weighed over thirty pounds and it kept falling over, forcing animators to reshoot scenes. The Tweedys were easily much bigger than Oogie-boogie compared to the chicken characters. Yet interaction is so seamless you can’t imagine how they could possibly have animated these characters with such a significant size difference. I’m not sure exactly how this was accomplished, but suffice it to say it was done extraordinarily well.
The story is good and well suited for laughs and endearing characters. Ginger and her fellow chickens try hilarious escape stunts that incorporate cartoon physics and slapstick humor. The chickens have varied personalities and are lots of fun. Even the bad guys are funny. There is a scene where Ginger and Rocky are trying to escape the new pot pie making machine’s test run. It’s every bit as action packed and silly as an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. There are sentimental moments and moments of great character development which add a great deal of relatability and charm to the movie.
My only real beef with Chicken Run was the blatant vegetarian and animal rights themes. I mentioned this in my review of The Pirates! Band of Misfits. It makes sense given the nature of the story: chickens living on a chicken farm trying to escape from maniacal farmers. The farm, itself, is designed to look like a concentration camp. This is kind of funny, but at the same time it seems ridiculous to compare the horrors and torture that humans underwent during the holocaust to chickens. Don’t misunderstand; I’m in favor of ethical treatment of animals. Chicken Run never outright tells you that eating meat is evil and you should only eat vegetables, but it’s certainly not subtly hinted at either. There are times the movie gets a bit close to being preachy but never actually does so. I’m still unconvinced, and still love me some fraid chicken. This shouldn’t dissuade viewers from watching Chicken Run; it’s still a very good movie. I simply think the vegetarian theme was a bit much at times.
Chicken Run is a really good movie. Kids will love the slapstick humor, adults will enjoy the story along with their kids since it doesn’t pander to strictly juvenile audiences, animation buffs will love the detail in the puppets and be baffled by how well they interact, and vegetarians will probably champion this movie as something that promotes their beliefs and is still very family friendly. I enjoyed Chicken Run a lot and highly recommend it to anyone. It’s got a 97% on; it really is worth your time.

Chicken Run was a good movie without being preachy. Can you think of other movies that were blatant propaganda hidden in an animated kids feature? FernGully: The Last Rainforest comes to mind. Comment below and tell me about some others.

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