So, Nick Park has an established commodity in the Wallace and Gromit franchise, and instead of investing his time into expanding their 30-minute adventures into a feature film, he opts to tackle an original concept. How… daring. It’s that sort of mentality that makes him such a respectable figure – instead of remaining in his comfort zone with well-established characters, he proceeds with an entirely new project.
That said, Chicken Run does thread some familiar ground, particularly if you’re aware of the films that have inspired its genesis. Films like The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and The Bridge on the River Kwai obviously served as inspiration for the film’s characters and narrative structure. The plotting follows as such: chickens dare to escape Mrs. Tweedy’s grounds. The chickens live in constant fear of not producing enough eggs or being turned into chicken pie. They try to go over the fence, under the fence, in disguise, and under cover of darkness with unsuccessful results. It’s only when a flying rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson) arrives that the chicken coop begins to feel confident that they can finally pull off the escape.
What makes Chicken Run a cut above the rest is its rich characters. Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) is the film’s heart, offering moments of poignancy as she hopes for things that expand beyond her surroundings. She’s level-headed in her attempts to escape, but caring enough to realize that her escape plans need to incorporate everyone. Other characters may play archetypes, but they’re so fully realized that it hardly matters that they subscribe to cliché. The salty rooster named Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow) made me happy that I had watched Alec McGuiness in The Bridge on the River Kwai a month before – his character fit organically within the narrative while providing a nice nod to McGuiness himself.
The stop-motion animation is impressive, an expected feature of Park’s films. The clay figures are richly detailed, having the quality of being both vibrant and dull given the situation. My quibbles with the film are minor, and stem mainly from a disappointingly uninspired love story that doesn’t really go anywhere. But the design and general structure of Chicken Run is sharp- everything from the sound design to the intricate ways the chickens move give you a sense that a variety of craftsmen and artists came together to make the best film possible. And given the tedious nature of stop-motion animation itself, it’s an artistic and impressive feat.