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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

Fowl play threatens the plucky inhabitants of Tweedy’s Farm as dozens of dowdy hens must produce a sufficient out-lay or face an untimely eggs-it. If such puns drive you mad, Chicken Run may be hazardous to your mental health. But for everyone else, this delightful family film shells out positive messages with the same wit and stop-motion artistry Aardman popularized with Wallace & Gromit. Chicken coops look like the barracks of a German P.O.W. camp. Vicious dogs patrol fences topped with razor wire. And after multiple escape attempts and stretches in solitary confinement, the irrepressible Ginger still refuses to accept her poultry fate. She dreams of something more and urges her British birds of a feather to do the same and not give up hope (“The fences aren’t just around the farm; they’re up here in your heads”). One day a cocky American rooster named Rocky flies overhead before crash landing in their pen. He’s on the lam from a circus. Convinced that Rocky can teach these chickens to fly to freedom, Ginger agrees to let Rocky hide out with them in exchange for his services. But time is running out. No longer content to earn chicken feed in the egg business, the diabolical Mrs. Tweedy has hatched a plan to make chicken pies with the help of an enormous gravy-spraying, vegetable-chopping, crust-baking contraption.

Positive Elements: Ginger rallies her comrades, refusing to give up her quest for freedom. They work tirelessly as a team to carry out their plan and rely on one another’s giftedness to succeed. When Ginger is about to become a pie, Rocky rushes to her rescue, putting himself in harm’s way to save his new friend. A dark secret withheld from the group leads to pain and disappointment (allowing parents to discuss trust and the consequences of selfishly misleading others). Audiences in the United States may bristle at Rocky being portrayed as an unreliable mercenary (“Pushy Americans, always late for every war”) who is more interested in tickling ears with what others want to hear than in communicating the truth. Still, there’s an important lesson in that—including how Yanks are perceived abroad.

Spiritual Content: Ginger utters a sincere prayer of “Heaven help us.” An opportunistic rat says, “Ask and you shall receive,” to which his scavenging partner notes, “That’s biblical.”

Sexual Content: None, though all the hens swoon over Rocky and are eager to let him bunk with them (he doesn’t). Americans are referred to as “oversexed.”

Violent Content: Following Mrs. Tweedy’s egg inventory, it is implied that an unproductive chicken gets the axe. Some tense moments involve the pie machine (birds narrowly avoid sharp blades, flames, etc. and the evil Mrs. Tweedy gets her comeuppance in a messy—though not fatal—gravy explosion). Otherwise, physical violence is limited to mild altercations and slapstick humor.

Fowl Language: None

Drug and Alcohol Content: None

Other Negative Elements: Mrs. Tweedy is clearly the villain, but her verbal abuse of her bumbling husband (“stupid,” “idiot,” “lummox”) may still disenchant some viewers.

Summary: The Academy Award-winning team responsible for some of the funniest animated shorts ever to come across the pond scores big in their first feature film. A smart script, including clever nods to WWII flicks such as The Great Escape and Stalag 17, makes this a movie sure to entertain adults as well as children. Chicken Run is also a visual delight. Park’s signature foamation uses a stop-motion technique that gives his characters a distinctly different look from either traditional hand-drawn or modern computer animation. Charming. By the way, fans will be glad to know that, as a result of the positive response to Chicken Run, Aardman has inked a four-picture deal with DreamWorks that will include a full-length adventure for that cheese-loving inventor and his dog, Wallace & Gromit.

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Bob Smithouser