The first full-length feature from Aardman Animation – which has three Academy Awards for shorts under its belt – combines the fantastic artistry of those shorts with solid storytelling to create that rare species in Bangkok: a film actually worth venturing out to see that definitely won’t be tied in with any fast-food promotion.
Mel Gibson is the voice of cocky (ahem) American, Rocky the Flying Rooster, who makes a crash landing within the confines of Tweedy’s egg farm. Here, in conditions reminiscent of a prisoner-of-war camp, a group of hens are intent on escaping from an existence where the preservation of their life depends on their ability to produce eggs. The scheming is of course carried out in Hut 17.
The chickens are led by Ginger (Julia Sawalha from Absolutely Fabulous), the film’s feisty heroine and the most determined of them all to escape. She knows that there’s a place where the grass has to be greener, a poultry paradise without the evil Mrs Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and suspicious Mr Tweedy (Tony Haygarth). Ginger is going to get there with her friends, even if they’re not all sure they really do need to get out. "We haven’t tried not escaping," says one.
Ginger offers protection to Rocky in return for lessons on how to fly for all the hens. These Rocky dutifully delivers when he’s not being fawned over by swooning hens as he lies in his outdoor jacuzzi. Ginger is suitably unimpressed.
The situation becomes more dire, however, when Mrs Tweedy installs a chicken pie-making machine that promises to increase her profits. A great Indiana-Jones like scene where Rocky and Ginger manage to escape the clutches of the intricate machine showcases the impeccable skills of directors Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts) and Peter Lord, who also produced the film.
The 563 plasticine figures in the film had to be painstakingly moved into 24 different positions for each second shot, making for a very realistic animation style that still gives absolute free reign to creativity – and gives new meaning to the description of a film being "well-crafted".
Chicken Run is one of those very rare imaginative and genuine films that will appeal as much to children as to adults. There are plenty of clever laughs and stunts, and some lovely characterisation – the two farm mice are noteworthy for their witty lines. The messages of the film are subtle and well-made, right down to the importance of Ginger’s feminism.
Thai audiences might not catch some of the jokes playing on the Anglo-American cultural difference evident between Rocky and the Tweedy Farm residents. For instance, the emphasis of the pure Britishness of former Royal Air Force rooster, Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow), could perhaps be lost: "Pushy Americans, always showing up late for every war," he says. "Overpaid, oversexed and over here!" (On the other hand, they might particularly identify with that line!)
This wouldn’t be enough, however, to hamper enjoyment by Thai audiences of this clever, compact and magical film that’s heartwarming without being too sentimental.