Chicken Run

Chicken Run (U)

THINK of all the great bits from the great movies of the past and chances are you’ll spot them somewhere in the fantastic hotch-potch that is Chicken Run.

This delirious, delightful and decidedly daft feature film debut from Aardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, takes as its premise the antics of Steve McQueen and Co in The Great Escape.

The only difference is that here, instead of McQueen, Richard Attenborough and James Garner, the hero and heroines are a plucky rooster and a bunch of down-trodden chickens, and their grim prison is not a German PoW camp but a Yorkshire poultry farm.

How could it possibly fail?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. All the Aardman hallmarks are present in abundance, from the wry observational humour and lightning-fast gags to the film references which litter the plot.

The plot, like those at the root of The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, retains a simplicity which cinemagoers of all ages can appreciate.

On Mrs Tweedy’s chicken farm, the various inhabitants plot their freedom. Like McQueen in the real Great Escape they attempt all manner of ingenious ruses, all of which are halted by Mr Tweedy and his all-seeing dogs. Many have all-but given up hope when a rooster, Rocky, plummets into the farm one dark evening.

Not only does Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson) provide new hope – he appears to have fallen from the skies like a miracle; in actuality he’s been fired from a circus cannon – he fairly ruffles the feathers of the ladies in the chicken coups.

With Rocky’s help, the ladies devise a plan to fly their way out of the farm. Recruiting a wily old bird who was once in the RAF, along with two mercenary rats, they plot and scheme under cover of darkness.

So when Mrs Tweedy announces she is turning the farm into a chicken pie manufacturer, the chickens and their rooster hero speed up their efforts.

The key element in Chicken Run is not necessarily the gags and plotting, but the fact that the characters are all immediately recognisable as Aardman reliables and their madcap gadgets and inventions are just as heart-warmingly barmy as any of Wallace and Gromit’s home-made rockets or robotic trousers.

In fact, the only real drawback is that our claymation hero and his canine pal don’t make a cameo appearance.

As always, Aardman’s claymation animation is flawless. The interplay between characters, the movement of limbs, machinery and, particularly, facial contortions, is so brilliantly conceived that any minor criticisms are rapidly overtaken by the action.

If Chicken Run has a fault, it is that it suffers from the padding required to transform the established concept of a 20-minute short film into a recognisable feature. That aside, it emerges as a bonafide modern near-classic – a ground-breaking piece of cinema which may eventually mean as much to the world of film as Fantasia did 60-plus years ago.

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