Chicken Run

Chicken Run

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

After winning three Oscars for his Wallace And Gromit shorts, Nick Park needed financial backing for his first full-length feature. Naturally, it came from Hollywood and luckily for him, it wasn't Disney, who might have Americanised the script.

Steven Spielberg's company DreamWorks has gained a reputation for trusting talent. Park was given a free hand. The result is refreshingly old-fashioned and peculiarly English. If it succeeds in the States, it will be a triumph of imagination over market research.

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The setting is a chicken farm somewhere in Yorkshire, possibly in the Fifties. For the hens, it is a PoW camp, complete with roll call, wire fencing and "solitary". Ginger, the pluckiest, considers it her duty to treat the place like Colditz Castle and find a way out.

She has a dream of the promised land where birds roam free and don't have to lay an egg a day for fear of the chopping block. "I've never actually felt grass beneath my feet," she says, wistfully.

Not all the prisoners have her courage. The RAF veteran waffles on in a plum duff accent about the war, more a windbag than any practical help. "We haven't tried not escaping," another suggests. "That might work."

Two things happen to subvert the expected. The farmer's wife, taking the role of cruel commandante, invests in a pie-making machine and a Rhode Island Red from the circus flaps in to teach nest-bound cluckies how to fly. Or so he promises.

The film doesn't have the pace or excitement of Toy Story. It is more idiosyncratic. The animated models express their feelings entirely through eye movements and yet their characters are separate and individual.

The beauty of Chicken Run is its refusal to accept modernity as having squatting rights in a Yorkshire state of mind. Park's heart is with the comics his dad read. Such devotion to nostalgia only emphasises how the English accept surrealism without question,as if life has always been off centre. There's nowt like folk, they say. There's nowt like chickens, an' all.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Plucky chicken caper sees farm birds bid for freedom.
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Director: Peter Lord, Nick Park

Writer: Karey Kirkpatrick, Peter Lord, Nick Park

Starring: Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson, Jane Horrocks, Phil Daniels, Timothy Spall, Lynn Ferguson, Tony Haygarth, Imelda Staunton, Benjamin Whitrow, John Sharian

Year: 2000

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK/US

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