Directors/Story – Peter Lord & Nick Parks, Screenplay – Karey Kirkpatrick, Producers – Peter Lord, Nick Parks & David Sproxton, Photography – Tristan Oliver & David Alex Riddett, Music – Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell, Supervising Animator – Lloyd Price, Digital Effects – The Computer Film Co, Production Design – Phil Lewis, Model Production Design – Jan Sanger, Special Props/Set Design – Farrington Lewis. Production Company – Aardman Animation/Pathe/DreamWorks SKG.
Julia Sawalha (Ginger), Mel Gibson (Rocky), Benjamin Whitrow (Fowler), Miranda Richardson (Mrs Tweedy), Tony Haygarth (Mr Tweedy), Jane Horrocks (Babs), Imelda Staunton (Bunty)
At Tweedy’s chicken farm, the determined Ginger leads the chickens in numerous attempts to escape from the coop but they are continually foiled by Mr and Mrs Tweedy. Rocky, an American rooster on the run from the circus, then flies in. Ginger eagerly inveigles Rocky into teaching the chickens how to fly so that they can take wing over the walls and escape. As Rocky struggles valiantly to teach the chickens the art of flying – all the while hiding the fact that he cannot – Mrs Tweedy comes with an ingenious new money-making scheme – converting the farm into a chicken pie-making factory.
Peter Lord and Nick Parks and their company Aardman Animation became cult figures with their Wallace and Gromit shorts, A Grand Day Out (1992), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995) and Cracking Contraptions (2002). The shorts, filled with owlishly blinking, Coronation Street (1960– ) accented middle-class Claymation figures and some of the wackiest Rube Goldberg contraptions ever put on screen, are simply delightful. I have yet to find a single person who has disliked these.
Chicken Run, which comes backed by DreamWorks SKG, was Aardman’s feature film debut. The bigger budget allows Aardman to do more classical cinematic things than the Wallace and Gromit shorts. As such, Chicken Run feels much more like a Hollywood movie – in its plot arc, its suspense sequences, the need to have an American character for American audience identification – than the Aardman shorts ever did, making it slightly the lesser.
Of course, being an Aardman film, Chicken Run is gently gibing at Hollywood tradition the entire way. For one, there is the concept of a WWII escape movie being enacted by chickens. The classic heroism of a Hollywood film gets deflated – Rocky the rooster who can fly is revealed only to be a circus cannon chicken, the RAF pilot chicken proves to only have been a squadron mascot (“You don’t think they’d let a chicken fly a plane do you?”).
Everything else hits right on the nose. The film’s suspense is conducted in all the right places – the rescue of Ginger from the chicken-pie making machine is the highlight of the show. The characters, especially the plucky Ginger who comes in the unmistakable nasal upper-class accent of Julia Sawalha of Absolutely Fabulous (1992-6), are entirely endearing.
The Aardman team’s love of lunatic contraptions also makes for a good deal of fun – notably the chicken-pie making machine and the wonderfully ramshackle ornithopter unveiled at the climax. Scripter Karey Kirkpatrick has a clear love of puns – Rocky introduces himself as the Lone Free Ranger; all Ginger can afford to pay the two rats is literally chickenfeed; when the call comes to take away the chocks so that the plane can lift off, the chickens promptly remove a chocolate box; and right at the end of film comes one last gag making an amusing play on the question of which came first – the chicken or the egg. The result is, in all, a rather appealing effort.
The next feature from the Aardman people was Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), followed by the cartoon animated Flushed Away (2006) and Arthur Christmas (2011), and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012), which combined both Claymation and computer-drawn animation, while Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015), Early Man (2018) and Farmageddon (2019) made a return to Claymation animation.