Click here 4 stars

Lots of
Pluck

It's a right fowl ball
as chickens turn heroes
in this thoroughly delightful romp

Rocky gets some bad news

"Chicken Run"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

Ginger tries the underground railroadFrom the studio that brought the amusing - nay, hysterically funny - "Wallace and Gromit" shorts comes this marvelously charming - and hysterically funny - modern-day retelling of "The Great Escape."

Life on Tweedy's Chicken Farm is bleak, indeed. Hens who don't lay their daily quota of eggs end up on the chopping block, and eventually on the Tweedy's dinner table.

Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha), a (dare-I-say-it?) plucky little bird, dreams of better things; a paradise beyond the distant hills. Sadly, her escape plans always seem to go terribly awry, often due to the incompetence of her fellow fowl, and she winds up taking the rap for it and being sentenced to solitary for a few days.

Her fellow chickens are colorful and big-hearted, but don't have a lot of material above the beak, if you get my drift. Still, they're all behind her 100% (more or less), starting with te empty-headed, perpetually knitting Babs (Jane Horrocks) to the stiff-upper-lip ex-RAF fryer ... I mean, flyer ... Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow) and up to the feisty Bunty (Imelda Staunton).

Into the frying pan lands Rocky (Mel Gibson) who flies into the pen quite unexpectedly. He is, as he puts it, the Lone Free Ranger, a true cock of the walk with a devil-may-care charm. In exchange for shelter (he's on the lam from the circus he used to work in), he agrees to teach the cooped-up chickens how to fly, ignoring the rather difficult obstacle that chickens can't actually fly, aerodynamically speaking.

In the meantime, the bitter and mean-spirited Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) has determined that egg production just doesn't generate enough revenue to allow the Tweedys to do more than subsist. The solution is a monstrous chicken pie making machine. It's simple, she tells her henpecked husband (Tony Haygarth); "Chickens go in, pies come out." The stalag has suddenly become a death camp.

There is a tremendous amount of wit and good-natured charm. The humor is a bit droll, and may go over the heads of kids that have been spoonfed Rugrats, Pokemon, Doug and other truly wretched kidfare. Still, the lil tykes will go for the panicky, somewhat silly chickens and the outlandish devices that Ginger and her penned-up mates come up with. Mel Gibson makes for a charming rogue. He's carefree, cocky even but in the end he has a gizzard of pure gold.

Peter Lord and Nick Park, who produced, wrote, and directed "Chicken Run" have a marvelous style. You get the distinct impression that these fellers both believe that their audience has at least half a brain cell in between them. They poke fun at British middle class life, while at the same time showing a genuine affection for it.

Some of the reference and the sometimes difficult to understand accents may go right over the heads of audiences (especially the tots) but most of the humor is universal. I found myself grinning maniacally throughout and Da Queen remarked at how cute she found the chickens.

This is a winner, folks. Kids may find the flick's Britishness a bit hard to fathom, but they'll muddle through. I liked this one far better than "Dinosaur" and I think that you will, too.

Theater or Video?
Not a bad idea for a trip to the local multiplex, but both parents and kids are going to want to own this one.
DVD at Amazon
VHS at Amazon.

See cast, credit and other details about "Chicken Run" at Internet Movie Data Base.