Chicken Run

"And that's kicking your ass!"

When it comes to animation, Dreamworks seems to be invincible. With the stultifyingly brilliant Antz, the severely underrated Road to El Dorado and now the genuinely inspired claymation Chicken Run, the relatively new studio has, at least temporarily, snatched the ‘toon crown away from Disney. Their latest, directed by the British Wallace and Gromit dream team Nick Park and Peter Lord, is a sharp, witty movie that finally answers the age-old question: what do chickens do when you’re not looking?

I’m not sure the film can vouch for all of the world’s chickens, but these particular ones raise hell. They treat their coop like a prison, you see, and their mission is to get out. Their leader, a spunky hen named Ginger (voice of Julia Sawalha), is the most dedicated of them all, constantly thinking of new plans to get all of them over that dreaded fence. The sense of urgency increases when Mr. and Mrs. Tweety, the evil chicken farmers, obtain a pie machine to boost their profits, striking fear into the birds’ hearts. If they don’t lay enough eggs, they’re sure to become mincemeat.

Morale is boosted by the airborne arrival of Rocky the Rooster (Mel Gibson), an American who promises to teach them all how to fly over the fence (“Those Americans… always showing up late for every war,” muses a character). The problem, of course, is that he himself can’t fly and is only pretending that he can because he wants the chickens to hide him from the circus keeper who wants him back.

The plot itself is obviously nothing groundbreaking — a simple prison escape tale, only with chickens — but the pleasure is in the details. First there are all of the ways that the chickens try to escape their prison — under the fence, with a catapult, flying, etc. Then, there’s the ingenious character models: with their beady eyes and exaggerated lips, these chickens may not be realistic but they’re downright adorable.

The film’s biggest virtue, however, is the endlessly clever, very British script from Park and Lord. Perhaps the polar opposite of the almost jingoistic The Patriot, which is also in current release, Chicken Run features constant barbs against Americans. They’re never mean-spirited (Dreamworks saw to that, I’m sure), but often very funny (“You can’t trust him! He’s a YANK!”).

The Wallace and Gromit shorts are famous for their eccentricity and it translates to the big screen. Certainly, this film will never be mistaken for any other, what with its consistently inspired mayhem and distinctive animation. The delightful Chicken Run easily beats out at least the last three ballyhooed Disney animated features.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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