If you have never seen work from Aardman Studios, you have to see Chicken Run, without hesitation. You have seen some if you saw the talking Chevron cars or pay attention to the animated short subject winners of the Oscars. Aardman is excessively famous for producing the three shockingly sophisticated Wallace and Gromit shorts (about 18-27 minutes long). No, it’s not a cartoon – it’s claymation. Plasticenemation, to be precise, and there is a difference. I could write a book about the intricate beauty, the realism, the depth, the craft of this kind of work, but you should just rush right out and see it. Chicken Run is Aardman’s first full-length feature, first wide distribution of big-screen plasticenemation, at least in America. I should also mention it’s billed as a comedy and a drama – yet it’s rated G. Catch an evening show so the gasping kiddies won’t drown out the rapid-fire dialogue.
Nick Park, the Oscar-weighted genius behind the Wallace and Gromit films (they only get better the more you watch them, and they are available for rental!), directs Chicken Run along with Peter Lords, who collaborated with him on the LipSynch series, the most famous of which is Creature Comforts. That is also available on video, by the way. Nick loves detail – and in claymation the crew has HOURS upon hours of intensive labor in which to fill the little clay world with detail and whimsy. I wouldn’t even try to claim I absorbed half of it – after 7 viewings of The Wrong Trousers I still noticed new things. Park is amazing – his sense of space and lighting and color and texture stuff the screen. Hysterically, he has chickens wearing glasses and instead of being accepted like Donald Duck’s pants, his characters are so marvelous that you are forced to laugh at the idea of them wearing glasses. Oh, drat, I am not explaining this well. It’s script, it’s character animation, it’s brilliant voice casting (IMDB is unhelpful here – Starring: Julia Sawalha , Mel Gibson , Miranda Richardson , Tony Haygarth and Phil Daniels is the cast credits), it’s inventiveness taken to new levels. Just go see it! You can catch images from the Reel.com official site, perhaps that will help.
Did I mention it stars the voice of Mel Gibson? But that doesn’t make a difference, really. Mel is a charismatic hero, with a sense of humor, and that’s all you need to make Rocky Rhode Island Red a winning character (Mel is great, totally redeeming himself for Pocahontas). The voices that really fit the story are the English actors. Something about Aardman just feels weird pronounced in American – the Chevron cars were creepy and unpleasant, while Wallace is just as charming as can be. I realize this is turning into a big commercial for Aardman Animation, so I will reiterate that you should check out everything they have done and then run out to see this movie. Or vice versa.
The only reason it gets Matinee with Snacks instead of Full Price Feature is that it is a wee bit slanted toward, well, American children. It’s kind of simple, straightforward, it has a few sad puns and a little bit of mocking the odd one out (never cool). It is glorious to watch. Consider that film runs 24 frames per second, and in order to have really fluid motion, one must move at 16 frames per second. Sixteen frames per second. Some of the motions aren’t nearly so rapid fire as that – but consider also that Chicken Run is 4,980 seconds long (give or take), so picture the 12 hr day in the studio where they get about 10 seconds of action on film. Nick Park likes things to wobble, to settle after movement, to rustle, to look real. So even if we are seeing a close up of Mac (my favorite chicken, the Scot in glasses) speaking, her feathers are wiggling with her breath, something is moving in the background, etc. Never mind a yard full of panicking hens throwing their knitting about in terror! The sheer glee, the novelty of Park and Lords” inventiveness, is what makes this more than just that scary Rudolph claymation from the 1970’s.
It’s labor intensive, claymation is, and in this case, the results are more than worth it. Pay your money and support this kind of fine art.
MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/23/00
Time in minutes 83
Director Nick Park, Peter Lord