Aardman’s Clay: Chicken Run

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Rating: 8.5/10

Plot: Ginger is one of many chickens in Mrs. Tweedy’s chicken farm, and she’s also the one leading a mass effort to break out of the place. With their lives amounting to nothing but laying eggs and suffering from a swift blow by an ax when the eggs stop being produced, they are desperate to escape by any means necessary. However, every escape effort made by Ginger and the chickens has been met with failure.

When hope seems to be at its dimmest, their salvation falls from the sky. Literally. A rooster named Rocky flies into the farm and subsequently crashes. With a poster revealing Rocky as an amazing flying rooster, Ginger recruits him to teach them all how to fly and escape in exchange for hiding him from the circus that he belongs to. Rocky agrees, but seems to be hiding something. And with Mrs. Tweedy’s new chicken pot pie making machine arriving on their doorstep, they have no time for secrets or failures.

Breakdown: Once upon a time, Dreamworks had a sexy love affair with Aardman animations, also known as ‘oh yeah that claymation studio’. Like all good relationships, this one started out steamy and ended in a toilet…..but more on that another day. The main point of this is Chicken Run.

Chicken Run was Aardman’s first ever feature length film after many years of doing short films. Aardman is indeed ‘that claymation studio’ as they pretty much have the market cornered in keeping that style alive. You may know them from Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and even Arthur Christmas.

Aardman clearly seems to have more creative control on this project that Dreamworks did. Other than the logo in the beginning, I can’t really feel anything Dreamworks-y here. That will change down the line, but again we’ll talk about that later on.

Chicken Run, at its base, is kinda predictable but mostly in regards to what I feel is the weakest part of the film, Rocky.

It is painfully obvious from the getgo that Rocky is hiding something, and even more obvious that he’s hiding the fact that he can’t actually fly. Much of the running time is somewhat awkward as you subconsciously tick down that clock in your head that will eventually reach ‘when the shit hits the fan’. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hate when shows and movies do this. I don’t want to feel awkward while watching a movie. I don’t want to sit there twiddling my thumbs waiting for the big devastating ‘secret’ to come out in the open. It’s not entertaining to me.

Luckily, the way they handled it with Rocky wasn’t too bad….but then you have Rocky himself. Rocky is a very…if you’ll forgive the pun, cocky guy. And he’s the lone handsome American in a group of English girls (and one old rooster…and one Scottish hen) so of course the girls all fawn over him except for Ginger who is way more concerned with getting out of there, which leads the two to bicker and have weird sexual chicken tension. They even do the bit where he calls her by cute and semi-psuedo-ish sexist nicknames like dollface while she constantly corrects him that her name is Ginger.

All that said, I watched this movie when it first came out and I remember not being all that impressed with it. However, on the rewatch, I got plenty of laughs and entertainment out of it. Barring the cliché plotline with the deceit and cliché character relationship between the two leads, it’s still a very solid movie.

While Rocky does seem like he’s going to be the one to end up saving the day in the end, and they even have an almost eye-rolling scene involving Rocky saving Ginger while they both yell each other’s name in slow motion, it’s still Ginger’s idea that comes out on top and Ginger as the final hero. Ginger is very likable in that she seems to be the only one around with real sense and determination. She is a true leader to her friends, and while she honestly could get away from the farm on her own, she refuses to do so even under threat of death because she won’t abandon her friends.

The setting of the chicken farm is pretty unique, even if it is masking for a prison break movie. Most of the characters, large and small, are pretty memorable and funny. Babs in particular is funny purely because, no matter what they’re doing, she won’t put down her damn knitting needles. Also, there are egg-obsessed rats who are contracted out to get supplies for the girls and oddly enough they seem to be based on Statler and Waldorf as they make snarky commentary over everything the chickens do to escape.

Mrs. and Mr. Tweedy are a bit too super-villainy for my taste, but they also get some great scenes and have a good dynamic. Mrs. Tweedy is a greedy evil bitch who is so emotionally detached from….everything, she even calls her husband ‘Mr. Tweedy.’ Speaking of Mr. Tweedy, he is the only one who realizes that the chickens are smart and organized, yet his wife continues to simply call him crazy. He’s the bumbling oaf, she’s the evil mastermind.

I also don’t really understand their plan. They don’t seem to be making enough money selling eggs, so they buy a really overly-complicated chicken pot pie making machine to turn their chickens into pies and get rich off of selling the pies. Okay….well, what happens when you run out chickens? You’d have to buy more chickens. And you have to have a constant supply of vegetables, pie crusts and gravy not to mention how much money it probably costs to run the machine. I’d bet by the time they processed their last chicken they probably would only barely cover the initial costs of the machine.

Then, spoiler alert for the ending, she sees that the chickens are indeed intelligent, organized and have built a giant mechanical bird to fly out of the farm (this is the second movie I’ve seen involving a bunch of oppressed animals building an operational mechanical bird…) yet she’s still obsessed with killing them instead of….I dunno, selling them to the circus that came by earlier. Or putting on her own show. I’d think an intelligent chicken who can build complicated aeronautics is more of a ticket seller than a chicken who is shot out of a cannon. End of spoilers.

I will admit that I’m not a fan of claymation/stop-motion. I respect the living hell out of claymation animators because it is just so painstaking, slow and frustrating to work in this style, but it just doesn’t typically work for me, outside of movies and shorts that are intentionally driven for creepiness and horror. Something about it is…., well, creepy to me. That said, this is a very well-made film. Aardman does some fantastic art and animation work that really draw you into their world with some incredible details. I think the teeth and constant open mouths on the chickens was a bit off-putting, but nothing that bad.

In regards to voice acting, everyone did a great job. They did a wonderful job making these characters real for me…..though, again, Rocky is kinda the exception. Rocky is voiced by Mel Gibson, and I can’t separate the two. Mel Gibson does not have range. He just doesn’t. And every voice acting role he takes is just Mel Gibson talking through whatever animated mouthpiece he’s given. He acts perfectly fine, but I just can’t not hear Mel Gibson.

Bottomline: Chicken Run is a great movie with some fantastic characters, wonderful comedic timing and slapstick, and a fun little prison break adventure. It’s not full-on comedy as some moments get pretty damn real, but it is still a movie that achieved in making me actually laugh out loud several times. The two tones work well together, and I found it to be a fantastic ride.

Recommended Audience: While there’s nothing graphic, there is a lot of talk of slaughtering chickens, and one chicken sees the business end of an ax during the movie. They obviously don’t show the scene full out, but you see the silhouette of the ax being raised and then the sound of it hitting the chopping block. There’s also a slight gore fake out at the end. Other than the downright depressing mood that this movie can bring about, there’s nothing else of note. 7+

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