Film Reviews:

Chicken Run

(Peter Lord & Nick Park, US, 2000)

Having not seen any of Nick Park's earlier works (featuring that goofy-looking Yorkshire bloke and his cute dog), Chicken Run ought to have been full of surprises. But it wasn't, being largely predictable from start to finish. It does have its memorable moments but they are few. The majority of the dialogue, situations, characters and plot being culled from a variety of sources but, most notably, The Great Escape. The plot, you see, revolves around a bunch of chickens, led by the plucky (sorry!) Ginger, trying to escape from a chicken farm. They believe their (so far) dismal failure will be turned around when an American rooster named Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson) 'flies' into the farm - damaging his wing upon entry. The hens in the camp begin to vie for Rocky's affections whilst Ginger wants him to teacher them to fly to freedom.

Writer/directors Park and Lord do pay homage to The Great Escape in a number of identical scenes but that doesn't excuse the entire exercise as being largely a remake with rubber chickens! For practical reasons, stop motion latex largely replaces the Plasticine (TM) of the previous films, the animation ranging from adequate to very impressive - the walking action of the human characters for example. Where the film wins is in the voice casting and acting - with the notable exception of Mel Gibson whose Rocky character sounds uncomfortable and restrained. Julia Sawalha is good as Ginger, Jane Horrocks is perfect as the dizzy Babs and Miranda Richardson ideal as the evil farm owner Mrs Tweedy. Despite all the characters being stereotypes, they nevertheless have a certain charm. Also welcome every time they return to the screen are two spivvy Cockney rats voiced by Phil Daniels and Timothy Spall. Of course, as often happens, those with the evil personalities are often the most compelling - the two vicious pitbull-like guard dogs being my particular favourites.

The plot is stretched out when Rocky arrives at the camp - waiting for his wing to heal so he can teach the hens to 'fly'. Park and Lord rifle the box of war movie cliches and clean it out completely - all the standard UK vs USA jibes out in force. Problem is, if this were live action its would be criticised for its lack of imagination, reliance upon stereotypes and excessive use of cliche. I don't see that because it is animation that it deserves special or lenient treatment on this front. That's why Chicken Run is an okay way to pass an hour-and-a-half but not much more.

Rob Dyer

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