Plot: What’s it about?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Aardman Animations. I loved “Creature Comforts”, and I’ve been a major, major fan of “Wallace and Gromit” for quite a long time now. So when I heard Aardman was going to make their first feature length project, I was ecstatic. When I heard Dreamworks was going to be in with it and inked a few picture deal with them (which they later extended), I couldn’t be happier (but a little worried that Dreamworks may dimish their creativity-thankfully, that did not happen). But I got even more happy, as “Chicken Run” opened to wonderful critical acclaim, and became one of the biggest hits of summer 2000, raking in over 100 million dollars, making the world of Aardman even more known.
“Chicken Run” follows the escape attempts of the chickens on Mrs. Tweedy’s farm. After numerous escape attempts, it seems there is no hope at all, depressing what appears to be the leader of the chickens, Ginger. The chickens have to produce eggs for Mrs. Tweedy, if not, they fear they might be her next meal (and that is established perfectly in the first few minutes of the film). Just as things are looking their worst, Rocky the Rooster drops in (literally) and reluctantly helps the chickens by learning how to fly. Rocky has little to no faith at all, and doesn’t want to be a guiding force or anything, but as things move on, he becomes part of them. However, Rocky does have a past and he must come to terms with it… all while helping out the fellow chickens.
After over two years of development, out hatches (sorry for the stupid joke) “Chicken Run” a wonderful stop-motion animated film that is purely Aardman with some high production values and excellent character and set designs. Like most Aardman films I’ve seen, I’ve gone in expecting something, and I’ve gone out completly surprised getting something much more enjoyable and different. That is the case with “Chicken Run”. Some of the scenes are so well put together, you may think you’re watching a big budget live action movie. The pie machine and grand finale are simply brilliant and a joy to watch. The voice acting is top notch as well. Mel Gibson is wonderful and really appealing as Rocky, Juila Swahala (Of “AbFab” fame) is great as Ginger, and Miranda Richardson is so cold and icy as the evil and diabolical Mrs. Tweedy. The script is also well written, nothing ever seems dumb or corny but rather intelligent, and the characters are also well developed. Peter Lord, a long time Aardman force co-directs along side Nick Park, the multiple Oscar« winner responsible for “Creature Comforts” and the “Wallace and Gromit” series. Their direction is perfect and dead on, and I feel they are the reason why the movie is so magnificent.
You really have to give credit and admire those involved in the making of the film. The whole stop motion animated process used for this film. For those unfamiliar with the process, it’s really time consuming. The models are alligned a certain way, that frame is shot, the models are moved, that frame is shot, etc. The models are made of plasticine, and are incredibly detailed and are exciting to look at. Building sets and models take a lot of time and patience as well, and what you see in the film is some top notch creativity.
What I love so much about “Chicken Run” is how the movie works. Yes, it may seemed aimed at children, but the film works for the older ones too. Kids should be satisfied with the fun characters and easy to follow plot, but there will be many references and jokes that will fly over their heads, making the movie work on another level. They’re some jokes about Americans, but what I really enjoyed was the homages to so many great war films of the past. The ones that come to mind are “Stalag 17” and “The Great Escape”.
If you avoided this film because it seemed geared to children only, I highly urge you to reconsider this film because this is a film for all ages. This movie really does have something for everyone, and over time it’s destined to go down as an animated classic.
Video: How does it look?
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in this catagory. Upon seeing the film in theaters, the models and sets looked very sharp on the print, however, some images appeared a bit soft. I am happy to say this transfer is jaw dropping, and I couldn’t be happier. It is a reference quality disc. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, I couldn’t find a trace of color bleeding and blacks and shadow levels are mighty impressive. I did not notice any compression artifacts whatsoever and there isn’t any softness to be found. The models look really real, they pop right out and look quite vibrant. Once again, Dreamworks delivers a transfer that everyone should be content with.
Audio: How does it sound?
To go along with the sparkling video, Dreamworks puts out a wonderful soundtrack to go with it. You got your choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES (as well as Dolby Surround 2.0). I basically watched the movie in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and then did some keynote comparisons with some major, active scenes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX sounds quite nice. John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams’ fitting musical score is brought to full life, as it sounds deep and well mixed. Voices are clear and easy to hear, and the sound effects are great to listen to. Nothing overpowers anything. If you choose to listen it to the film on this track, you’ll be in for a treat.
Now, the DTS 6.1 ES is remarkable. I slightly prefer it over the Dolby Digital, as I found surrounds to be a bit more aggressive, and the bass is a bit deeper. The track sounds more even than the Dolby Digital. Just listen to the climatic finale. The roaring in the air, the screams of the chickens and the action and suspense around it. You feel like you’re there, you FEEL the tension. So no matter which track you hear, you’ll be in for a nice listen.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Though it’s not fully loaded, I’m happy that “Chicken Run” features an excellent amount of features on DVD which is sure to please casual viewers and those more into animation. Let’s get crackin’ (another stupid joke, sorry. Get it? eggs crack…), shall we?
Since I am so amazed with Aardman and stop motion animation, I was really eager to give the Audio Commentary with Peter Lord and Nick Park a spin. This commentary is top notch, as the two have a lot to say and give many insights and behind the scenes stories on the film and certain scenes. The two also rave about those who helped make the movie, so if you are interested in the stop motion animation proccess at all, you’ll really benefit from this track.
Two featurettes are included on the disc, each offering additional insight on the movie and some behind the scenes footage. The Hatching Of Chicken Run lasts about fifteen minutes, as it shows how stop motion works and offers a nice, brief history of Aardman and on Chicken Run itself. A good watch if I say so myself. There’s also Poultry In Motion: The Hatching Of Chicken Run that lasts about twenty two minutes (I think it was shown on NBC around the time the movie was released). This shows a little on stop motion animation, and it includes some stuff on the voice actors and interviews. It’s somewhat fluffy, but still enjoyable. What I wish is that they included some storyboards or concept art, or maybe some excerpts from the wonderful book Chicken Run: Hatching The Movie. Still, the two featurettes are enjoyable.
Two Theatrical Trailers of the movie have been included, in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 no less (YAY!). One is more of your standard trailer, while the other is a clever marketing movie that does a rip off of “Mission: Impossible 2”. I don’t remember seeing that as a trailer, but a TV spot. I also know there was another trailer, sorta like a teaser, which isn’t found on the disc. Oh well. One TV Spot is included as well, and parodies Dreamworks’ own “Gladiator”. Also, there is a trailer of the upcoming CGI Dreamworks movie, “Shrek” with Eddie Murphy, Mike Meyers, John Candy and John Lithgow. It looks excellent, and I can’t wait to see it (too bad the whole idea of bringing it to IMAX fell through). That trailer is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1.
A Read-A-Long is on the disc for the kiddies, as it lasts twenty minutes and uses stills and footage from the film. Also for kids to have a good time with (or a guilty pleasure for the older ones), might be the most useless but most fun DVD feature, the “Panic Button” where when you press it, you get a short clip of all the chickens screaming. Fun the first time, I guess, but not much more than that. Rounding out the disc is some Production Notes, Cast and Crew Bios, the usual DVD-ROM material (two games, computer wallpaper, screensavers) and the “Egg Hunt”, which are easter eggs hidden throughout the menus of the DVD. Can you find all 12? Everyone reveals a fun fact about the film, and I found this to be quite spiffy.
Overall, this is an excellent movie and Dreamworks had created a top notch presentation for it. While I wish there could have been a little more with the supplements, what’s included is statisfying. If you love Aardman or just a plain, fun film that you’ll watch again and again, Chicken Run is for you.