Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Chicken Run: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: DreamWorks - Escape or Die Frying

Chicken Run follows the story of a group of chickens determined to fly the coop for good! Led by the rough-and-ready newcomer Rocky (Mel Gibson), the chickens of Coop 17 hatch an elaborate plot to escape from the clutches of the menacing Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) before she serves them up as pies.

Director: Nick Park, Peter Lord
Cast: Phil Daniels-Fetcher the Rat; Lynn Ferguson-Mac; Mel Gibson-Rocky Rhodes the Rhode Island Red Rooster; Tony Haygarth-Mr. Tweedy; Jane Horrocks-Babs; Miranda Richardson-Mrs. Tweedy; Julia Sawalha-Ginger; Timothy Spall-Nick the Rat; Imelda Staunton-Bunty; Benjamin Whitrow-Bunty
Box Office: Budget: $42 million. Opening Weekend: $17.506 million (2491 screens). Gross: $106.793 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DTS ES 6.1, English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; rated PG; 84 min.; $26.99; street date 11/21/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Directors Peter Lord and Nick Park; 21-minute "Poultry In Motion: The Making of Chicken Run”; 15-minute “The Hatching of Chicken Run”; Read-Along; Two Trailers; TV Spot; Production Notes; Cast and Crew Biographies; Special Sneak Preview of Shrek; Panic Button; DVD-ROM Materials.
Purchase: DVD | Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie - Brian Sibley | Score soundtrack - Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/B+(DTS) B(Dolby Digital)/B

My friend Kevin almost never goes to movies. However, for some unknown reason, he was in the mood to hit one early last July and we decided to hit the cinema. Although that season provided a variety of choices, our options were limited because of Kevin’s wimpiness; he’ll watch action films at home but he can’t take them theatrically because they agitate him.

There went most of the movies available! As such, our choices were narrowed to two: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Chicken Run. Personally, I wanted to see CR. I like animation of all kinds and it’d received solid reviews, so it seemed to be the logical pick. However, Kevin developed some form of bizarre bias against the movie, so he refused to see it.

As such, we were stuck with Bullwinkle. When that film hits DVD, don’t look for a review of it on this website, as I shan’t screen it again. Bullwinkle wasn’t just bad, it was painfully bad, horrendously bad, throw-myself-off-a-bridge-so-I-don’t-have-to-watch-it-again bad.

In other words, I didn’t like it. The following day, I went to see CR on my own. I really hoped the movie would live up to its positive buzz just because I wanted to be able to harass Kevin; I eagerly anticipated the chance to give him a hard time about his cinematic choice of the prior day.

While CR clearly was much better than Bullwinkle, it wasn’t quite gloat-worthy. I enjoyed the movie and thought it provided a generally entertaining experience, but I couldn’t comprehend the high level of praise heaped upon it.

Now that I’ve seen CR a second time, I must admit that I like it a bit more but I still don’t think it quite reaches the level of classic. However, it’s a fun little flick that offers a clever and engaging experience that stood up well to a second screening.

CR takes place on the Tweedy chicken farm. Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) continually tries to formulate a way for all of the chickens to escape their fates but she can’t quite develop a credible plan. Literally out of the sky drops Rocky (Mel Gibson), a rooster-escapee from a circus. If the chickens will hide him, Rocky agrees to teach them how to fly so they can flee the farm.

The movie follows the crew’s ups and downs and introduces a new element of danger when Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) invests in a chicken pie machine. Before that, the chickens experienced fatal threats only if their egg production ceased; if that occurred, they went to the chopping block. However, the pie device means certain death for the whole coop, so this development requires the bunch to accelerate their departure.

CR gleefully grabs from a variety of different films for its myriad of reference. Mainly it lifts from prison flicks like The Great Escape and about 100 other Steve McQueen pictures but it also borrows from action movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Aliens. Frankly, much of the fun in the film is to see these references and identify them, though it shouldn’t be thought that CR is nothing but a claymation version of a Dennis Miller routine; the plot functions well on its own and would work nicely even without the extra elements.

Of course, the story offers absolutely nothing new other than the setting and the characters. It’s fairly standard family-film fare, with folks who have to team together to overcome harsh odds, and we get the standard roguish character who ultimately redeems himself. I could name at least half a dozen similar stories without much effort - think up your own list for fun and prizes!

But the derivative nature of the plot seems irrelevant because the execution is a lot of fun. The goofy claymation works much better than I’d think. I haven’t seen much of this style - I’ve never watched Wallace and Gromit, the popular show from CR’s directors Nick Park and Peter Lord - and I thought it’d seem less fluid and lively than it does. The format appears nicely evocative and vivid and it serves the story well.

CR also benefits from some solid voice acting. Most surprising is Gibson’s nimble turn as cocky cock Rocky. I’m not a big fan of Mel, but he does a wonderful job as the obnoxious American rooster; he makes the character heroic, pathetic and comic all at once, and he creates a level of depth that I didn’t expect.

No one else in the cast really stood out to me, but all of the actors provided able work. Overall, Chicken Run remains on a similar level. I thought it was a solidly entertaining and well-executed piece that was consistently entertaining, but it doesn’t quite make it to the level of greatness. By comparison, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 mined similar pop reference territory to much better effect. Nonetheless, Chicken Run is a very enjoyable movie that stands as a fine example of the genre.

By the way, stay around through the end credits. I won’t spoil the surprise, but additional fun happens toward their end.

The DVD:

Chicken Run appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film looked absolutely marvelous from start to finish and presented a stellar picture.

Sharpness seemed virtually flawless at all times. The movie appeared exceedingly crisp and detailed with no signs of softness anywhere to be seen. I discerned no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV were exceedingly minor. At not point did I find evidence of any print flaws; the movie seemed without grain, scratches, speckles, nicks, tears, blotches, hairs or other defects.

Colors appeared nicely natural, or at least as natural as one would expect from clay chickens. Sunrise scenes displayed lovely golden hues, and I really liked the orange tint to Ginger. At all times, the colors were very solid and clear. Black levels seemed similarly deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately dark but never excessively heavy. All in all, the movie provided a terrific image.

The soundtrack of Chicken Run also worked well, though it didn’t match up to the fantastic picture. The DVD includes both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. I preferred the DTS track and will initially address all of my comments toward it. After that I’ll provide a summary paragraph to discuss the ways that the DD version differs from the DTS mix.

CR featured a fairly forward-oriented soundfield. The front speakers presented a nicely-integrated sonic image that provided a broad impression. Sounds moved neatly across the channels and seemed well-placed within the environment. Surround usage appeared somewhat limited at times, though the movie included a few scenes in which they came to life powerfully. The first “pie machine” sequence and the climactic escape scene both worked best in this regard; all five channels offered solid audio during those segments and made the soundtrack much more engaging.

Audio quality appeared strong. Dialogue always seemed distinct and natural. The speech integrated nicely with the action and showed no signs of edginess or concerns related to intelligibility above and beyond some fairly-thick accents. Music sounded bright and brassy and offered fine dynamic range. Effects were clear and without distortion, and they also displayed very nice bass response. While the track could have been somewhat more active, the mix seemed to be fairly appropriate for the movie and it complemented CR neatly.

So how did the Dolby Digital soundtrack differ from the afore-discussed DTS mix? The variations were subtle but clear. I found that the DD track to seem slightly less full and rich. The audio didn’t mesh quite as neatly, and the bass response sounded more wan and displayed less depth. I felt that the surround levels seemed less prominent as well. On its own, the Dolby track worked fairly well, but I thought the DTS mix was somewhat more engaging and warm.

In addition, Chicken Run tosses in a fair number of supplemental features. First up is a running audio commentary from directors Nick Park and Peter Lord. Their track can be a little dry at times but it offers a lot of solid information. The directors touch upon a nice mix of subjects such as explanations of strongly British elements in the film and cultural differences, casting, the evolution of the story, technical details and a variety of other topics. They give us a good look at the background of the movie and how it was made, and I found the commentary to be a fairly engaging piece.

Next we find a video program called “Poultry In Motion: The Making of Chicken Run”. This 20-minute and 45-second show clearly exists as a promotional piece but it seemed fairly informative and involving. The featurette combines interviews with cast and crew, behind the scenes clips from the making of the movie, and a slew of film snippets. All in all, it’s a pretty standard affair, but it provides a solid overview of Chicken Run and does so in a generally entertaining manner. One nice touch: this show offers more views of the vocal talent than is typical, and I enjoyed being able to see them at work.

A second featurette appears as well. Titled “The Hatching of Chicken Run”, this 15 minute program closely resembles the first show, though it adds some new material. It gives us a more full (though still brief) look at the history of Aardman animation and shows more behind the scenes footage of the animators and the voice actors. It remains somewhat redundant, as it touches on the same topics, but it’s still a fun look at the film.

The “Read Along” lets kids follow the text of the film’s plot. A combination of film clips and narration, this piece lasts 17 minutes and 17 seconds. It tells the full story of the movie and allows kids to follow the text as it’s read to them. Unlike a similar feature found on many Disney DVDs, this one doesn’t provide the option to decode the tale without narration.

We find some promotional materials in another area. We get two theatrical trailers for Chicken Run plus one TV spot. Trailer 2 is the most fun of the bunch; it spoofs Mission: Impossible 2 in a number of ways and refers to this movie as C:R-1. The TV ad also parodies Gladiator. We also get a “sneak preview” for May 2001’s computer animated Shrek, which will star Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.

“Production Notes” provides 23 screens of text about the creation of the film. Most of this concentrates on technical details, such as the number of chickens and other minutiae. Similar factoids can be found in the “Egg Hunt”; scour the DVD’s menus for hatched eggs and you’ll find little tidbits of information when you click on them. Note that each egg generates more than one piece of data, so if you return to it again, you’ll likely find something different. Apparently there are 12 facts in all.

“Cast and Crew Biographies” continue the DreamWorks tradition of extensive listings. Each biography is fairly brief but reasonably interesting. However, DreamWorks like to include entries for many different participants, and that occurs here as well. We find bios for 10 actors plus 13 members of the crew. That’s a lot of folks!

In the spirit of the “Omega 13” on their DVD of Galaxy Quest, Chicken Run includes a “Panic Button”. Press this and you get a couple of seconds of spazzy chickens. This feature provides two different brief snippets, so push it again to see the second one. It’s pointless but cute.

Lastly, Chicken Run includes some DVD-ROM materials. The “Family Fun” area provides a number of different activities. There’s a bland little “Screen Saver” and a “Desktop Cluck” (or “clock” for us non-chickens). The “Poster Set” will let you print any of six different images, while the “Maculator” acts as a movie-themed calculator. We also get a “Desktop Theme” and a “Coloring Book” which lets you print any of nine different images. A second “Poster Set” adds four more printable pictures, while the “Ginger Pet” has the film’s heroine run about your screen.

The DVD-ROM area also includes two games. “Whack-A-Tweedy” rewards you for bopping the villains but penalizes you if you hit a chicken. The contest starts slowly but builds to a frantic pace. I played one game and think that if I did any more I’d be ready for a nervous breakdown, but it was fun nonetheless. The “Escape Game” was less compelling. You need to guide a chicken across the pie machine to safety. This game just seemed annoying and offered little entertainment.

From the DVD-ROM section, you can also “Go Online”, at least in theory. I wasn’t able to get the connection to work, so I couldn’t check out this page. It’s possible that it won’t be available until the DVD’s release date; since I tried it more than a week early, this is a distinct possibility. I’ll attempt the connection again after the official release of the disc. Anyway, despite this minor disappointment, I found the DVD-ROM materials on Chicken Run to offer some interesting pieces.

As a whole, Chicken Run falls short of true greatness, but I thought it was a very fun and delightful experience that rarely fell flat. The DVD offers an absolutely fantastic picture plus solid sound and some nice supplements.

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