So it wasn’t until my baby chicks hatched that I even considered talking about this film, but in fairness, this film was pretty impressive to a very young me. I’ve always had a huge admiration for Aardman Studio (though they have started using Wallace and Gromit to sell sofas), because they’ve given a unique image to British animation with their signature plasticine stop motion animation. Of course, being synonymous as the studio who made Wallace and Gromit shorts, making its first full-length feature film and not using the characters it was famous for was a gargantuan gamble. Well, it’s been 21 years since its release and it still sits at the top of the highest grossing stop motion film of all time, so I’d say the gamble has considerably paid off.
Directed by Aardman Studio fouders Peter Lord and Nick Park, Chicken Run follows a group of chickens who constantly try to escape the farm they live in run by Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth & Miranda Richardson). The ringleader of the group Ginger (Julia Sawalha) dreams of a free life for her and the others. Her prayers seem to be answered when a rooster Rocky (Mel Gibson) crash lands in their farm. Ginger sees this as an opportunity to convince Rocky to teach the chickens to fly so they can escape.
So originally, this film started life as a spoof film of The Great Escape, the original plans going forward with this film can be seen as it certainly gives off similar vibes, albeit with more slapstick and animated, but I think even if you don’t make that comparison that’s fine because in a way, this film has moved away from being a spoof of something to something original. The story is very entertaining and much more appreciative when you consider how long just a few seconds would have taken Aardman to animate. You can also see how much better the animation techniques of Aardman have gotten when you look at this film alongside Aardman’s latest project at the time, the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. You can also see in some frames the thumbprints on the models from where the animators have moved them which honestly is like seeing craftmanship at work.
When you consider that more recent Aardman films have often had some tiny assistance from CGI, such as in the Wallace and Gromit film when it was used for simple effects like smoke and dust, the fact that Chicken Run was done entirely without the need of digital assistance is staggering. There are scenes where you have many chickens panicking and running all over the place and the fact that each of those models have to be moved in small stages is staggering. Such a simple scene and it probably took more than a week to make, now that is dedication.
Julia Sawalha is amazing as Ginger, I absolutely admire the natural born leader element around her. Although there is the intellectual chicken of Mac (Lynn Ferguson), Ginger definitely has the most common sense of all the chickens. When she is introduced to Rocky, her no nonsense attitude is brought out with amazing quality, and the occasional sassiness, because Rocky is a near opposite of Ginger. Along with Ginger and Rocky are a whole host of chickens, each one funny in their own right. One of my favourites from when I saw it as a kid was Babs (Jane Horrocks), the innocent, knitting loving chicken who has one of the biggest heart of gold you could want in a character.
It pretty incredible that I still hear people quoting this film after all this time, but it’s not hard to see why. The comedic timing of this film is so on point in so many scenes. The scene in which Rocky teaches the chickens to fly stands out to me the most because you have commentary from the two rats of the film Nick and Fletcher (Timothy Spall & Phil Daniels) who are amazingly witty and know exactly what to say with every failed attempt by the chickens. You can pin all this on amazing writing and that famous British wit and attitude, something that Aardman seem to celebrate a lot in their films.
In essence than Chicken Run is seemingly one of the most time-consuming animated films to have been made, but by god was it worth it. It pretty much ticks the boxes on what I expect from a film like this, it’s engaging for everyone, it has clever writing, humour and characters, and it is something quite inspirational for an animation technique that is the most painstaking when It comes to natural details. This film has done so well that it is no longer a spoof of those prisoner of war escape films, it’s now nestled along with them.
*A quick sidenote here, I’ve praised Aardman a lot in this review, however very recently they have done questionable things such as the aforementioned use of Wallace and Gromit in sofa adverts. In my mind, this is such a waste of an iconic British duo and I really hope to see them soon in more feature length or short films. But something more relevant to this post is the fact that Chicken Run 2 is in the works and that neither Julia Sawalha or Mel Gibson will be reprising their roles which has come under criticism and lead to Julia Sawalha revealing Aardman said her voice is “too old”. I can only hope that these scratches to Aardman’s reputation don’t open up into wounds because I absolutely admire what they’ve done for British animation.