Cinerama: Chicken Run

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Chicken Run

By Mike Derderian

In Peter Lord and Nick Park’s stop motion animation caper Chicken Run a group of chickens were trying to escape Mrs. Tweedy’s hellish pie-making machine. That was back in 2000 but now we have chickens with runny beaks and millions of people around the world on the run instead. Haven’t you heard bird flu has arrived to Jordan?

Talk about life’s irony: The oppressors have become the oppressed and after thousands of years of Chickencide, fowls for the very first time are meeting their Maker in one piece. Chickens have finally kicked the infamous cardboard bucket away.

Tragic as it may sound but the culling of thousands of chickens by the hands of masked health administrators might be considered by the little birds a humane way to die. I mean who wants to end up as a minced stuffing for some potbelly chef ’s hard-crusted pie or served as marinated chicken wings? A wise chicken perched on a nest once thought, “If buffalos had wings, chickens can fly. But I don’t see no buffalos around!”

Don’t get me wrong I love preying on chicken and snack on the embryonic remains of their hatchlings, every now and then; but in the end, humans come first, unless they prove there are other intelligent life forms living on distant planets, orbiting in un-chartered galaxy.

Having heard the news, I decided to sign a truce with chickens so I no longer prey on their eggs. In return they agreed to sacrifice one of their own in a bizarre ritual practiced exclusively on Fillet Island, every full moon.

Strapped to an ancient ritualistic alter the chick struggles in fear. Drum rolls reach a higher octave as the helpless chick tries to free itself. The beast with the flaming eyes slowly approaches the temple. Roaring like a volcano… oh this is so mediocre… it ogles its prey. Is this the end of our feathered fowl friend? What will happen? Will Ming Mong devour the ensnared creature?

This resemble one of Peter Jackson’s King Kong scenes, so before someone slaps me with a plagiarism lawsuit let us return to this week’s movie: The hilarious and full of wit Chicken Run.

Starring the voice talents of Mel Gibson and Julia Sawalha, this 84-minute blast-of-a-movie is a non-stop family run; it is in fact a turn in the old washing machine. Hilariously witty, charming and brilliantly executed, the film would magnate both children and adults.

Adults will love Chicken Run because of its World War II sub context theme it so obviously projected in different scenes throughout the movie. One will remember classic moments from Braveheart (1995), The Great Escape (1963), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Last Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1989) and The Blues Brothers (1980). In one funny scene Gibson pokes fun at the Braveheart catchphrase “Freedom.”

What happens when you throw a roaster in a chicken coup full of chicken? Mayhem is one answer but it was certainly fun with Gibson in the lead role. He is the voice behind the suave Rocky, the death-defying Yankee roaster, who tricks the desperate female population of a British chicken farm into believing that he can actually fly.

As for Sawalha, who we all loved as teenagers in the 1989-1993 investigative reporting television series Press Gang, she gave her voice to Ginger, a chick you cannot easily trick. She also has an attitude.

The electric circuit of the dynamic duo—Gibson and Sawalha—was supported by the voice talents of Tony Haygarth, Benjamin Whitrow, Timothy Spall, Phil Daniels and Miranda Richardson, who provided the malign and Machiavellian voice of Mrs. Tweedy, whose eerie presence alarmingly resembled that of Norman Bates in Psycho—must be the hairdo.

The question is why are those chickens so desperate to fly? No they are not running from culling for a far worse fate awaits them. Mrs Tweedy, the owner of the farm, invested some money in a pie-making machine and she intends to turn all the chicken in her farm with the help of her incompetent husband Mr Tweedy (Haygarth) into nice homemade pies. Scary huh.

The animation is flawless and the characters are excellent in terms of appearance, detail and depth. This is the only time you will ever meet chickens with charming personalities minus the odor.

Lord and Park breath life in each and every chicken character on set by incorporating in them the most basic elements of human nature. Anger, jealousy, sadness, joy, a high sense of drama and the survival instinct are part of the elements that were voiced by the vibrant chickens.

During his stay, Rocky manages to turn a few heads and by doing so he also enrages Brigadier Fowler (Whitrow), who is like a drill sergeant and the second roaster in the farm. Rocky convinces the chickens and Ginger that he can teach them to fly and break out of the farm. For an animated movie about chickens it has a surprising twist and if you know better, you’d know that chickens and roasters don’t fly.

Chicken Run is an exciting flight through a magical world of miniatures and plasticene characters brought to life thanks to the undying art of stop-motion animation. It is one of those movies that you get addicted to and just have to buy the DVD.

Must-see-scene: how Rocky teaches the uptight ladies square dancing; Nick and Fetcher’s rat antics that includes the philosophical argument of which comes first the egg or the chicken; Ginger’s feisty attitude that reminds us of Steve McQueen’s “The Cooler King” in The Great Escape; Rocky and Ginger’s Indiana Jones-like escapade in the pie-making machine; the volatile chemistry between Rocky and Ginger and the daring flight of the fowl-plane near the finale. Bon appétit.

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