Review of Chicken Run

Friday, June 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Bawk bawk. Cluck cluck? Not in the enchanting new clay animated film Chicken Run, a fowl escape yarn whose inmate birds have more charm than many of Hollywood's human creations.

DreamWorks, Peter Lord and Nick Park - creator of the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit shorts - have provided a splendid example of what happens when a studio lets imported talent do its own thing. In the process, the English duo has crafted a whimsical homage to the great prison escape films, particularly John Sturges' The Great Escape.

This time, the chicken wire stands erected on Tweedy's Egg Farm, overseen by Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson). The prisoners, who know they could be breaded and fried any dawn now, are very British and, of course, female (the movie's not called Rooster Run). Most important, they're quite determined to fly the coop and escape their culinary doom.

Enter Rocky the Flying Rooster, a reluctant, mock-heroic rescuer voiced by an admirably game Mel Gibson. The flesh-and-blood Mel is slated to battle the Brits this summer in the Revolutionary War drama The Patriot; here, he plays the distrusted Yank charged with hatching a plan for English escape.

Rocky provides just one example of Chicken Run dexterously spoofing and acknowledging staples of classic war stories. Flying into the picture during his own escape attempt from a barnstorming act, the wayward rooster is initially scorned as yet another American arriving late for the war. Sure enough, he proves more interested in romancing the chickens than lending a feather to the cause - until the chips are down.

Unlike the recently released Titan A.E, in which you can practically see a suit putting a gun to Don Bluth's head with instructions to make a movie for adolescents, Chicken Run feels like a pure product of its creators' imaginations. The key is that those imaginations know no age limit: Chicken Run is clever and sophisticated enough to appeal to discriminating parents, yet endowed with enough comical wonder to keep the kids giggling on the car ride home.

It's so much fun that it's easy to forget how great it looks. The chickens have elongated mouths and plump haunches, and their plasticine/silicone/steel model bodies allow them to move with a perfect lack of grace. All characters, including the human ones, blend in seamlessly with the farm compound. The set pieces, particularly one involving a cavernous, high-tech chicken pie machine (an additional escape motive), are sublimely executed.

Just don't expect it to whet your appetite. The likable cast isn't running for the sport of it, a fact that might prompt you to preempt that next trip to KFC. After all, you wouldn't want to gobble up cute little Ginger, Babs and Bunty.