Nepali Times
Fowl play on screen


This fine family entertainment is the first feature-length film from Aardman, the animation studio based in Bristol, England, that has been dazzling us for 20 years with its feats of clay. This one is co-directed by Peter Lord. Co-founder of Aardman, and Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit and winner of
Oscars for Creature Comforts, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, which opened nearly five years ago and was loosely inspired by Brief Encounter.

Chicken Run is a very close parody of the prisoner-of-war camp genre, especially The Great Escape. In this case, however, the PoWs are Plasticine chickens and the camp is a farm in Yorkshire surrounded by barbed wire, policed by vicious guard dogs and run by the ferocious Mrs Tweedy whose jack-booted resemblance to Irma Grise of Belsen infamy is slightly mitigated by her dim husband who looks like Wallace\'s black-sheep brother. In contrast to the not dissimilar Babe, there are no decent humans here. The camp\'s escape officer is Ginger and the movie begins with a lively montage of ingenious escape attempts. Between each of them Ginger is thrown into the coal-bin cooler where, like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, she bounces a baseball. The movie takes on a darker shade when a hen is executed by Mrs Tweedy for failing to lay eggs (we see the shadow of the falling axe) and it threatens to become positively black when the Tweedies decide to switch from producing eggs to manufacturing chicken pies, thus turning the farm into an extermination camp.

But Park and his associates know that while swans can be tragic, hens can only be comic. So they endeavor to make us care about their poultry, but avoid easy pathos and seek to keep sentimentality at bay. This isn\'t an allegory in the tradition of The Parliament of Fowls or Animal Farm, and there are no uplifting, heart-rending songs in the Disney manner. The only musical interlude is a jive session the hens have with Rocky, a flying Rhode Island rooster from the States (Mel Gibson) who has escaped from a circus and landed in the camp. Rocky provides a foil for Fowler the ageing cock-of-the-walk nostalgically obsessed with his days in the RAF, and some love interest for Ginger.

More important, Ginger gets him to start a flying school for a mass escape by air. This hilariously disastrous enterprise is observed by a pair of black-marketeer rats who mock the hens\' antics with lines such as \'Birds of a feather flop together\' and \'Poultry in motion\'. In fact, except for refraining from references to getting laid, there is not a single chicken joke or pun that goes unused, and I now even feel bad about writing \'e.g.\'. Flying the coop using your own wings would have been the inspirational way out, but the Aardman people wisely reject it. Instead they opt for a flying machine of the sort built in Colditz and run up by the stranded survivors in Flight of the Phoenix. This gives Park the chance to create another eccentric contraption of a Heath-Robinson or Roland Emmett sort. Stalag Luft III would have had trouble containing inmates who could transform a string of fairylights into a flarepath and use the ratchets of a deck-chair to create a take-off ramp. Naturally Mac, the camp\'s resident engineer, is, like Star Trek\'s Scotty, from north of the border. The film flags slightly from time to time, but for most of the way it is prodigally and prodigiously inventive, both visually and verbally. We know that every second of the film involves hours of painstaking physical work moving and adjusting the figures and sets. But even if you didn\'t know about the laborious process of clay animation, you would recognise the virtuosity and sense something lovingly hand-crafted in Chicken Run.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)