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With: (voices) Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson, Jane Horrocks, Tony Haygarth, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, Phil Daniels, Benjamin Whitrow, Lynn Ferguson
Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick
Directed by: Nick Park, Peter Lord
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 86
Date: 06/21/2000

Chicken Run (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Few Good Hens

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 List are two films called The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995). They've both been there for years, while other movies come and go. For the uneducated, they're Oscar-winning animated shorts starring claymation superstars, Wallace and Gromit. But though they only run half an hour each, they both have a Hollywood big-screen sensibility to them. They build suspense, they're funny and clever, and they culminate in slam-bang chase/action sequences.

So it was only a matter of time before directors Nick Park (whose work you might also know from the Chevron Techron ads) and Peter Lord went big time, with a feature-length movie done in their distinctive style of wry humor and terrible British teeth. Chicken Run is a highly enjoyable picture, but it stretches itself a little thin at points, and it makes you want to ask Park and Lord to stick to what they know.

It begins with the very appealing Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) trying to break out of the chicken coop where she and her friends are kept. She makes several attempts, coming up with more and more elaborate plans each time, and is caught again and again. (As punishment, she's thrown into solitary confinement in a coal bin.) Then a circus rooster named Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson) crash-lands in the coop and promises to teach the hens how to fly. Meanwhile, the evil farmer's wife (voiced by Miranda Richardson) has decided that eggs aren't profitable enough and has decided to make chicken pies instead. Time is running out for Ginger.

Of course, the usual complications arise. Ginger is singled out for testing in the horrendous chicken pie machine and Rocky may be holding out certain information about himself. Actually, the plot is pretty easy to anticipate. It's the typical Hollywood you-can-do-it-if-you-believe-in-yourself-and-really-try product. Characters try and buck each other up with inspirational little speeches when their confidence lags. But I have to admit, even I wasn't expecting the spectacular getaway when it finally took place.

The real reason to see Chicken Run isn't really the plot, though. Something about Nick Park's characters is intrinsically hilarious. You have but to look at a still picture of Wallace and Gromit or Ginger to start grinning. Maybe it's those teeth. But these incredibly earnest and charming characters pull you into the movie immediately. This sincerity is most evident in Jane Horrocks, who was so appealing in 1998's Little Voice and was born to play Babs, a chicken who knits all the time.

It helps that the dialogue and situations are so funny. Pun fans will be in chicken heaven hearing such lines as "poultry in motion" and when Rocky refers to himself as "the lone free ranger." When Babs hears the sound of dinner, she declares, "Chicken feed! My favorite!" And when Ginger passes the time in solitary confinement, she amuses herself by continually bouncing a ball against the metallic side of the coal bin -- a staple in most prison flicks.

In addition, it was nice to see a band of females as the heroes of a movie for once, instead of being dragged along, rescued and protected by the males. Ginger especially makes a good leader with her determined look and her Rosie-the-Riveter bandanna.

I had a lot of fun at Chicken Run, and Park's fans are likely to be satisfied as well. But the big question is: when will Wallace and Gromit grace the big screen? That man and dog team seems to have been born to carry a feature film. Maybe Park was just using Chicken Run to get warmed up. But with a warm-up this good, Park and Lord should be ready to sprint next time around.

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