Chicken Run (2000) — Escape or die frying

“Pushy Americans, always showing up late to every war. Overpaid, oversexed, and over here!”

Justin’s rating: Fight on, brave chicken!

Justin’s review: Always a fan of the three Wallace and Grommit claymation cartoons, I was somewhat excited to see the same team come out with Chicken Run (although I mourned the lack of penguins).

So on a Hell-worthy Nevada morning, I joined my friend Lance for a trip to the theater to see running chickens. Lance and I have a blast seeing movies together, mostly because we’re not afraid to laugh loud and often. Therefore, it was a delight to discover that Chicken Run was not only outright hilarious, but contained many a reference that only adults would get (such was the humor of old Warner Bros. cartoons). As the little kids in the audience scratched their heads over a few remarks, we freely cahooted and chortled for the duration of the film. I believe at the point where Rocky comes flying over the fence on a tricycle (an homage to The Great Escape), we raised our fists and yelled, “YAH!”

Man, those kids will be in therapy for life.

What starts out as good only gets better. Chicken Run has risen from #89 to #44 in my favorite movies of all time (with a bullet!) with repeated viewings. The music, the characters, the dialogue… what genius. And who doesn’t like a prison escape movie?

Chicken Run begins in the downtrodden coop on Mrs. Tweedy’s Farm. The place looks like a Nazi concentration camp, and Mrs. Tweedy fills the part of a leather-whipping boot-jacker. Most of the chickens are resigned to their fate of eating and occasionally losing one of their numbers to the hatchet — all except Ginger, a plucky chick whose desire for escape is overwhelming. In the opening sequence, Ginger and friends stage numerous Hogan’s Heroes-style breakouts, only to fail at every turn.

Things get worse as egg production drops, and Mrs. Tweedy resorts to a horrific pie machine to make a profit once and for all. But hope drops from the sky in the form of Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson), a rooster with the supposed ability to fly. Will the chickens learn to fly in time? Is Rocky just a traditional American — all selfish, all hormones?

What doesn’t crack you up in this movie will charm you. I got a kick out of all the little chicken inventions they make out of household appliances (eggbeaters as digging tools, excellent!). There’s a lot of genuine emotion here… it’s a kid’s film, for sure, but the theme of death is ever-present. It’s probably the best way to educate small kids in the brutality of Nazi death camps. If there needs to be such a way. Ginger is an admirable leader, not only for her ideas and endless energy, but also for being smart and keeping her eye on the goal instead of getting distracted like the rest of the chicks.

What doesn’t charm you in this movie will crack you up. It’s a lot of British humor, a helping of slapstick, and giggle-worthy characters (as if I, a man, would ever giggle). Mac, Ginger’s right-hand woman, spouts confusing Scottish (much to the confusion of Rocky). Flower, an ex-RAF chicken, has that daft old coot quality that is so easy to love. Bunty is antagonistic and sarcastic, but good at heart. And then there’s the ever-knitting Babs, completely unaware of anything important or otherwise. They blackmail Rocky into helping them, use black market rats (cute, cuddly rats) to obtain building materials, and in the immortal words of Dave Barry, are “plucky to the point of brain damage.”

Chicken Run is an important movie to know, not only for your own enjoyment, but also if you ever have to pick out a movie to watch with a kid. There’s a limited selection out there, you know, of movies that interest people across all age groups. I can’t imagine anyone NOT liking Chicken Run (well, except neo-Nazis that would want the Tweedys to win). Just because it’s rated G doesn’t mean it’s rated DUMB.

Lissa’s rating: Like a fish!

Lissa’s review: Chicken Run has long been one of my favorite movies. It’s smart, funny, inventive, and has just the right amount of “awww”-factor to it. And it’s full of parody, which I love. But I’ve never reviewed it, not until now.

What prompted me to review Chicken Run? Spending a Sunday afternoon watching The Great Escape with Duckie.

Duckie’s been after me forever to watch The Great Escape. He knew I’d like it, given my love of Chicken Run. See my review and see that he was right. But after listening to the theme music and watching some of the movie, I was utterly compelled to see Chicken Run again. And when I did see the tunnel again, it was about a million times funnier after watching the source material a few hours before.

For the record, I felt the same about this movie after watching Braveheart.

I am a sucker for parodies in movies. I really am. I love spoofs. They’re fantastic… but not everyone pulls it off, because not everyone understands the rules of spoofing:

1. The spoof must be short.

A quick nod or homage is best. Take the gags in Chicken Run. Instead of the principal escape plan being the escape plan from The Great Escape, it’s one of the failed plans. (Plan L, I believe.) The spoof lasts about 10 seconds, if that. Compare this to Team America: World Police, where entire scenes from movies are acted out. The thing is, the audience either gets the joke or isn’t going to get the joke within about ten seconds. So keep it short.

2. The spoof need not be visual.

The music in Chicken Run must be the best example of this. It’s not exactly the music from The Great Escape, but it’s close enough to utterly crack one up. The flutes and the jaunty tune and perhaps even the basis of the melody are similar enough for the mind to draw comparisons, but then it goes on to do something new and unexpected — like adding kazoos. This also brings us to our next point:

3. The spoof must add something new.

A scene being reenacted in the same way by different characters is not funny. There needs to be some new element added in. Like kazoos. Or replacing the dollies with roller skates and the shovels with egg beaters, to account for the fact you’re replacing your human prisoners with chickens. It’s that new addition that makes a spoof funny. You can get away with it if it’s a super-short spoof, but the longer the joke goes on, the more original you must be.

4. Let your characters be original.

Feel the need to spoof? That’s fine. That’s great. But let your characters have a life of their own, as well. That’s what makes it funny. Sure, Ginger mimics Steve McQueen. But she’s definitely her own chicken. And the name Mac might be a tribute to Gordon Jackson’s character in The Great Escape, and/or someone (anyone) from Braveheart, but her mathematical bent and other general characterization makes her a three-dimensional chicken, not just a one-note character. Spoofs are not repeats — and that’s important when putting together a great spoof.

And finally…

5. Spoofs get old.

Who hasn’t done the Indiana Jones reaching for his hat thing? Or a rip-off of “I am your father”? Pick source material that isn’t overused. Please. Or if you must, pick a different spot in the movie. The scene where Ginger grabs her hat from under the oven door? Seen it hundreds of times already. The scene where she and Rocky are fleeing the giant circular knife thingies? Much better.

For the most part, Chicken Run obeys these rules. And it obeys them for several movies. Aside from the obvious references to The Great Escape, Braveheart, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, it also manages to hit Stalag 17, Hogan’s Heroes, The Simpsons, Star Trek, The Blues Brothers, and real people such as Mel Gibson himself and Edwina Currie, whose political career was founded over an egg-laying crisis. (I know nothing about that one — I just took the info off IMDb.) But even if you aren’t as enamored as I am to pop culture references and such (I’m just trying to avoid using the word “spoof” again), there’s still a lot more to see here.

I could go on about the plot, which is funny. I could talk about the claymation, which is really well done. The dialogue, which is witty, the inclusion of various implements in new and different ways, which is entertaining… but that’s not what I want to focus on. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge Chicken Run as something else: a feminist movie.

I never realized it until today, but Chicken Run is, essentially a chick flick. After you’re all done smacking me for the bad pun, look at it carefully. The main character is a female. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she doesn’t take no for an answer. Plus, she’s an excellent role model type. She cares, and she’s very determined and very honest, and she even learns from her mistake. And she’s not a sex symbol. She might get the guy (one of the only guys), but she wins his admiration through her smarts and her personality, not through her breasts and thighs. (Look, it’s a chicken movie, okay? I couldn’t resist.)

Ginger is not the only female character that makes me grin, though. One of the reasons I hate calling myself a feminist is that, right or wrong, the myth has perpetuated that women consider themselves superior to men, rather than equal to men. I’d say that’s not true, but you can see it in some subtle ways. Chicken Run is one of those movies that doesn’t fall into that trap. The true villain of Chicken Run isn’t the bumbling Mr. Tweety, but Mrs. Tweety, whose cold-blooded cruelties (to both chickens and husband) are enough to make the blood run cold. When it comes down to it, she’s the one Ginger has to defeat, much moreso than Mr. Tweety. And when they duel, it has NOTHING to do with a man, love, or sex, and everything to do with money, power, and whether or not Ginger will be the chief ingredient in a pie. How often do you get THAT in a movie, much less a kids movie?

The side characters — male and female — add to my theory that Chicken Run is a more feministic movie than most kids’ flicks. Other female characters sport atypical female characteristics: Bunty is physically intimidating and Mac is an engineering/mathematics expert. And while Babs may be dim, her knitting is used as a resource, not purely as a gag. But the male characters also join in the fun. They aren’t simply reduced to the horse’s end of the jokes, but work with the chickens perfectly. They are protective in a way, as one would expect (anyone is protective over people they love), but it’s not in the “I be man, you be woman” type way. And they aren’t regulated to pure stupidity, either. Rocky is full of ingenious ideas, Fowler would have something intelligent to say if people would only listen to him, the rats (I love the rats, by the way) are essential as scavengers, and even Mr. Tweety has a POINT. The chickens ARE organized.

I can’t believe I just wrote three paragraphs on Chicken Run as a feminist movie.

Anyway, if for some reason you haven’t seen it, go rent it and watch it now. It’s exactly the sort of movie that just about everyone should love.

Didja Notice?

  • Lawn gnomes are not good offensive weapons
  • The main coop is number 17, a not-so-subtle reference to the film Stalag 17
  • In the scene where Rocky is tuning in the radio, one of the short bursts of music heard is from the opening theme to “The Archers,” a long-running British drama series on BBC Radio 4. The Archers began in 1950, and is still broadcast regularly to this day (2000).
  • During the scene where Rocky is using a pair of braces to help the chickens fly, Nick and Fetcher sit watching and eating from a bag of dog biscuits. The brand name printed on the dog biscuit bag is “Chuffy” — the same fictional brand of dog food repeatedly referred to in Rex The Runt, an animated TV series made by the same studio as Chicken Run.
  • Rocky screaming “FREEEEEEEDOOOOOOOM!”
  • The signpost recycled as a propeller reads “Halifax 32; Lancaster 40; Sunderland 59.” This narrows down the location of Tweedy’s Farm to the Yorkshire Moors, probably somewhere in Upper Wharfedale or Littondale.

    Those town names were also all names of British WWII warplanes.

  • In one of the scenes showing Ginger in “solitary confinement” after trying to escape, she is shown bouncing a baseball against the wall of her cell, a reference to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
  • After Ginger and Rocky slide beneath the closing door following Rocky’s rescue, Ginger reaches back under the door for her hat. This is a reference to the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Hens don’t have teeth!
  • Near the very end of the credits the conversation about which comes first, the chicken or the egg??, comes up again. The two rodents want to take an egg or a chicken and make a chicken farm to make their own eggs. However, they cannot deside if they need a chicken or an egg. Finally, Rocky the Rooster pipes in and says to “please pipe down”.

2 comments

  1. “Just because it’s rated G doesn’t mean it’s rated DUMB.”
    If only more films understood this.

    “My life flashed before my eyes……It was reeeaaally boring.”

  2. This movie is an old childhood favourite of mine and wow what a review! This is the best and deepest analysis of chicken run I’ve ever read in my entire life. 👏👏 Brilliant

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