Nerdling Tales takes a mostly spoiler free look at cult classics mostly overlooked by the public, movies that failed so hard they won, and the “what in the hell were they thinking” flicks. Join her as she reminisces about what makes these movies so interesting and full of hopeful sequel potential, and yet the general movie going population tends to forget their existence.
Since awards season is about to finally come to a close, let’s take a look at one of my favorite Oscar snubs. This may not completely qualify as a forgotten gem, but the creative team who produced this film, and many like it, don’t get the proper attention here in the states as they should.
Released: June 21, 2000
Directors: Peter Lord and Nick Park
Writers: Peter Lord, Nick Park, Karey Kirkpatrick, Mark Burton, John O’Ferrell
Stars: Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth, Mel Gibson, Lynn Ferguson, Phil Daniels, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, Benjamin Whitrow
Chicken Run is a stop-motion film which follows Ginger (Sawalha), a chicken who wants to escape the egg farm and live a life of as a free bird. Her many escape attempts have been foiled by the Tweedys, the couple who owns the farm where she lives, and their dogs. When Mrs. Tweedy (Richardson) decides there is more money in making and selling chicken pies than in eggs, she buys a pie making machine in need of some repairs. Ginger and her fellow chickens work on an escape plan for all of them or be made into tasty dinners when an injured American circus rooster by the name of Rocky (Gibson) arrives and promises to teach the chickens how to fly the coop (bad pun I know but it couldn’t be helped) if they help keep him hidden from the circus owners looking for him.
This delightful film is from Nick Park and Peter Lord, who created Wallace & Gromit, another stop-motion comedy film series about a man and his dog and the more recent Shawn the Sheep. Most of us a little on the older side would probably know them better as the creators of the stop-motion animated Chevron talking car commercials.
Chicken Run is a bit spoof of many WWII prisoner of war type movies, most notably The Great Escape (accept with a much happier ending) with Ginger vaguely resembling Virgil Hilts (played by the late Steve McQueen). Even the opening shot of the farm looks like a POW camp with the spotlights and razor wiring around the coops perimeter.
There are a few smart jokes aimed at us Yanks that adults will enjoy (as well as a joke aimed at Gibson and the misconception as to where he was born) as well as plenty of action and fun both parents and children will love. The suspense of one of the chickens nearly getting turned into a pie is intense, but not scary. The concept of chickens learning to fly in order to escape being made into pies is a silly plot handled in a very intelligent way. The movie doesn’t talk down to children, but does make plenty of jokes they will get when they are young and still find funny if they go back and watch as an adult. As a charming little bonus, two characters have a debate at the end about what comes first, the chicken or the egg.
Sawalha and Gibson have great chemistry in a way that resembles the old Hepburn/Grant movies. They constantly argue and teeter on the edge of falling for one another. Babs (voiced by Horrocks) is adorably daffy, but she has so much heart that she never becomes an obnoxiously stupid character. Whitrow’s Fowler, a stern retired Army mascot in charge of the hens, his banter is perfectly countered with Rocky’s laid back American attitude. You care about these characters and want to see them escape.
I was 18 when my mom and I took my 10 year old little brother to go see this movie and all of us absolutely enjoyed the film. That is not an easy feat to accomplish when you have three people with very different tastes in movies. Even now going back and watching it as a 34 year old adult, I still laugh and enjoy the movie as much (possibly even more) as I did when I first saw it 16 years ago. The humor, story, and heart still hold up even for young ones today as I found out when a friend of mine recently borrowed my copy and watched it with her daughter.
As much as I love Pixar, I almost prefer the look of stop-motion animation over the glossy computer generated worlds. The characters have a weight and feel to them that CGI can’t replicate and somehow it makes a difference in how we relate to the characters.
Chicken Run is a fun and feel good movie everyone in the family (or just a group of adults) can enjoy which can be a rare thing. Everything, from the look of the film to the characters, is a testament to patience and creativity can pay off to make something truly special.