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Chicken Run (2000)
Rated PG

Starring: The voices of Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, and Julia Sawalha

Rating:
****
out of
*****

A few years ago, while channel surfing, I came across a short animated film that was composed of interviews with claymation animals about their experiences in the zoo. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The animal's expressions were so well-animated and indicative of their mood that it knocked me for a loop. I had to know who was responsible for it. Unfortunately, a power outage cut my viewing short and I never got to see the credits. Years later, I would find out that the film, called Creature Comforts, was the work of Aardman Animation, who would win an Academy Award for the piece and would later be responsible for Wallace and Gromit, two of my favorite animated characters. This summer, they are responsible for Chicken Run, their first full-length animated film.

Chicken Run documents the efforts of a clever hen named Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) and her friends as they try to escape the Tweedy Chicken Farm. As the film opens, numerous methods of escape are attempted, but all fail in one way or another. A key ingredient is missing. That ingredient arrives in the form of Rocky the Flying Rooster (voiced by Mel Gibson), who drops in on the farm unexpectedly. Ginger attempts to get Rocky to teach the chickens how to fly so they can all escape before Mr. Tweedy gets his chicken pot pie machine fully operational.

The film is definitely marketed for kids, but this movie is smarter than your average kiddie fare. In fact, at the showing I attended, the adults seemed to have a better time than the kids. The kids had a good time no doubt, but I don't think they picked up on all of the references to other movies, one-liners, subtle sexual innuendo, and the other treats included in the film for adults to enjoy.

The animation is high-quality, with particular attention paid to facial expressions. As in their previous films, Aardman's animators make it very easy to forget you're watching stop-motion clay figures. They breathe life into these characters and make it very easy for the viewer to suspend disbelief. The voices, masterfully done by all involved, are the icing on the cake. The characterizations are all Grade A quality. After watching this film, you'll probably never look at a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad the same way again.

Since this is a movie aimed at little kids, one would expect a lot of musical numbers and a dumbed-down version of what actually happens on a chicken farm. Thankfully, since this is a film from Aardman and not Disney, there's one semi-musical number (a dance sequence that's quite fun) and no pulling punches when it comes to what happens to chickens that don't produce enough eggs. (One -- and only one -- chicken believes that the chickens that disappear have gone on vacation. In a Disney movie, they'd all believe it and try to get you to believe it too.)

Chicken Run is a marvelous movie for all ages. It moves at a good pace for kids. It's got humor for kids AND adults. And, hey, it's got Mel Gibson. How can you go wrong with that?

Trivia: Some of the many movie references in Chicken Run include Star Wars, Star Trek, The Shawshank Redemption, Stalag 17, and Braveheart. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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