Fans of Wallace and Gromit have been waiting for animator Nick Park to make a feature-length movie for quite some time. Chicken Run is that movie, and as a moderate fan, I’d say it was mostly worth the wait.
The Great Escape
Wallace and Gromit shorts
The film’s concept is just right for Park’s silly style: a flock of chickens is determined to escape to freedom. The story is told in the style of prisoner-of-war movies such as The Great Escape and Stalag 17 (both of which are visually quoted in Chicken Run).
Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) is the hen who witnesses the execution of her friend Edwina. The gruesome sight steels her resolve, and she organizes the hens in a plot to escape. Ginger finally settles on a means of escape when she meets Rocky the flying Rooster (Mel Gibson). Rocky accidentally flew into the hens’ compound, and with his training, the hens should fly be able to fly out.
Between the adventuresome beginning and the exciting ending, there is a lot of slow-moving plot: Rocky’s character is introduced, he leads the girls in flying exercises, new developments crop up with the farmers. Much of this seems like filler, padding a much shorter, denser film.
In fact, I’d almost call the middle third of the film boring, except that Park’s style — funny, warm characters in detailed, fanciful settings — is irresistible.
Park’s characters are lovingly developed through both voice and animation, resulting in well-rounded, interesting personalities. For example, Sawalha gives Ginger a plucky, can-do attitude matched by her sensible scarf and hat. The villains, Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy, are a storybook witch and warlock brought to life.
The settings in the film are nearly as impressive as the characters. The interior of the Tweedy farmhouse looks like a dusty museum piece, where no sunlight or candy are ever allowed. Outside, an ominous gray sky continually hangs over the yard, and rows and rows of coops are surrounded by barbed wire fence.
Even the props have unprecedented detail. A visitor hunting down Rocky the Rooster arrives at the farm one night. As his truck pulls to the gate, the chickens watch, and from their low vantage point, we can see the greasy transmission spinning underneath the truck.
This almost-unbelievable level of detail is one of the reasons to see Chicken Run. Its cast of wacky and warm characters is another reason. And although the pace is uneven and the plot seems stretched thin, Chicken Run is still worth a look.
Wallace and Gromit fans, your wait is over.