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Laramie Movie Scope:
Chicken Run

Escape or die frying

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 25, 2000 -- "Chicken Run" is a charming, fanciful and whimsical tale of love, bondage and the quest for escape from the awful fate of being turned into nuggets.

Directed and written by Peter Lord and Nick Park, who have collaborated before in the popular Wallace and Gromit series of "claymation" stories. This, too, is a stop-motion show, but the creators of the film are using more modern materials than clay and the result is a more realistic-looking effect, as realistic as you can get when you have chicken with teeth.

Stop-motion animation has been used in movies for years, "King Kong" being an early example. The idea is you take a picture of a moveable character, stop the film, and move the character, then repeat the process over and over until you have what appears to be a continuous motion when the developed film is played back at normal speed. It is painstaking, labor-intensive work, to say the least, but it sure pays off in this film.

The star of our story is a plucky (pardon the pun) hen named Ginger (voice by Julia Sawalha). She is just an egg producer on Tweedy's Chicken Farm, but she has a vision of someday being a free-ranging chicken. She tries a never-ending series of escapes, but she keeps getting caught. She has plenty of pluck and refuses to give up, however. After each escape, she is thrown into a coal bin, a sort of solitary confinement. Inside, she bounces a ball off the wall of the bin to pass the time, just as Steve McQueen did in "The Great Escape." At night, the chickens hatch escape plots in hut 17, just as POWs did in "Stalag 17."

There are any number of sly references to other movies in the film, mostly the two mentioned above, but also there are references to "Star Trek," "Flight of the Phoenix," "E.T." and others. After Ginger's latest failure, she sees a chicken flying through the sky one night, landing in the chicken yard. It is Rocky the (Flying) Rooster, a cocky Rhode Island red (played by Mel Gibson). He agrees to teach the hens to fly so they can escape, after bragging that he was known as Rocky the Lone Free-Ranger. Things get more urgent when the hens learn they will die if they don't fly to coop soon.

Essential to any getaway are the right supplies, and the suppliers are a couple of pack rats named Nick and Fetcher (voices by Tomothy Spall and Phil Daniels. They're only in it for the eggs, but they're likeable just the same. The enemies are farmers Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (voices by Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson. The henpecked Mr. Tweedy is especially funny, while Mrs. Tweedy is a terror. There are some dogs, very mean and dumb ones, who help prevent escapes from the farm.

There is a swinging big band jazz number and Rocky sings a golden oldie, but he's no Dion DiMucci. There is also an old veteran named Fowler (voice by Benjamin Whitrow) who loves to go on at length about his war record. The resident rooster at the farm, he is finally forced to back up his talk. The romance between Rocky and Ginger develops slowly during the film. Rocky is a reluctant hero at best and Ginger is reluctant to trust him. The story is solid, with a passable romance, some drama and a lot of laughs. There are more laughs in the opening five minutes of this film than I have seen combined in two or three other so-called comedies I have seen this year. It has more humanity in it than most films using live humans instead of fake chickens. It's a good film for the whole family. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)