Film Fridays – ‘Chicken Run’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start โ€˜Film Fridaysโ€™ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We donโ€™t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – in my case in alphabetical order because I am sad like that….

‘Chicken Run’ (2000)

The trailer is on Youtube at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEOfT7hUcDs

Last week I could not write about ‘Blade Runner’. This week I’ve opted for a comedy about escape from confinement. Interpret this how you like, but it genuinely was next on my list!

I found out yesterday that I am to return to work on Tuesday and I am strangely relieved. I will be able to separate ‘work’ from ‘home’ again. Any trepidation is not related to my safety but is simply because I don’t want to go – but that was the case even before the pandemic!

So, ‘Chicken Run’ is basically an animated spoof of the ‘POW escape’ movies and was originally pitched as a spoof of, specifically, ‘The Great Escape’. It follows the escape attempts of the inmates of Tweedy’s chicken farm after they discover a nefarious plan by Mrs Tweedy to ditch collecting their eggs but turn them into chicken pies instead. They are ‘assisted’ by cocky American rooster, Rocky.

Chicken run was made by Aardman Animations, based in Bristol, UK. They had been using their characteristic stop-motion animation since 1972 on a variety of TV shows,TV ads and short movies – and of course Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ video. They came to prominence as a result of their wonderful series of short movies about their characters ‘Wallace and Gromit’. By 2000 they had attracted big studio interest and when pitching Chicken Run, their first full-length movie, they gained backing from Dreamworks. Chicken Run was a huge hit, both critically and financially, and remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated movie of all time.

I love this movie on so many levels. As with many movies on my list, the production design and the care that has gone into creating this miniature world is astonishing. Remember everything had to be made from scratch – right down to the rusting oil cans and cobwebs in the shed (little details that a lesser team simply would not bother with).

The in-jokes are really clever and well chosen. It is a delight spotting the references to other movies (including Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as assorted escape movies).

The voice cast are on great form too. A real coup was getting Mel Gibson to voice Rocky, but he definitely does not outshine the home-grown talent. The main protagonist Ginger is played by Julia Sawalha and the other chickens by a list of great British female character actors including Jane Horrocks and Imelda Staunton. Mr and Mrs Tweedy are played by the fabulous Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson. Phil Daniels and Timothy Spall voice the two rats who smuggle things into the compound for the chickens, and are based on wartime black-marketeers.

The humour: Well, the film is hilarious. Much of the slapstick timing is reminiscent of Laurel & Hardy but the character-based humour is wonderful too. Aardman founder Peter Lord is from Bristol in the South of the UK but the humour is very Northern in style – as is that of Wallace & Gromit who are Northern characters. It is therefore no surprise that co-writer and director Nick Park is from Preston in Lancashire, just a few miles from me. (Stan Laurel, who wrote Laurel & Hardy’s material, was also from Lancashire by the way.)

This does lead me to my tiny criticism of the movie. Like much Northern comedy it portrays the male characters as idiots & dreamers, kept in check by practical and somewhat bossy women. Recently I have looked upon such movies with a more critical eye and imagining the uproar if the sexes were reversed. That said – as a Lancashire man myself I find there is more than a grain of truth in these caricatures…

Personally, my favourite characters are the two rats, who look upon the proceedings with detached amusement. Basically me in meetings ๐Ÿ˜‰

A sequel is apparently in the works….

29 Comments

  1. I love this movie; and for the same reasons as you. The attention to detail is one of the things Iโ€™ve always really liked about the Aardman stuff.

    Your comment about the gender-based humour is interesting. It seems that women can only be either airheads or bossy In comedy, and given the oppositional nature of characterisation in story-telling, bossy women need hen-pecked men. I wonder if thereโ€™s a class thing here; working class women arenโ€™t believable as airheads and a lot of Northern humour is quite embedded in working class culture. And maybe Iโ€™m being too simplistic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you are spot-on Su. The working class culture my generation grew up in was characterised by very Matriarchal families. The mum was in charge of running a household on often very little income and everyone deferred to her. Dad was useful only as a donor of money and semen, and maybe for fixing things๐Ÿ˜‰, and just tolerated the rest of the time.
      My wife grew up in exactly that environment and her attempts to apply that model to management of me has led to lots of friction…..and probably explains why I am so sensitive about such things in movies etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see it in my family too, and when I started researching my family history I found so many stories of hardships where women were raising huge numbers of kids in dire circumstances. The men seemed in general to be hard workers, but in the sort of occupations that required long hours. Itโ€™s a wonder they had the energy to produce so many rug rats. On a 1911 census record I found recently, one of my great granโ€™s sisters is recorded as giving birth to 15 live children. Aaaaagh!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I know!!! Ten of them were still alive in 1911. Then she lost one son in WWI, one to suicide in the 1920s and another fell off a ladder and died in the 40s. The girls seemed to live a bit longer.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Darren I am so excited that you chose this movie and I love what you’ve written completely! This is such a gem and for all the reasons you outline so superbly. I didn’t realise most of these things – even Sledgehammer video, which of course I know now that you pointed that out. Love Wallace and Gromit, as did my boys and their northern dad. I hadn’t realised either about Northern caricatures, but now I see what you mean. SO much to adore about this movie – I think I have it on DVD so I will have to dig it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment! I think my first encounter with Aardman was their character Morph, who appeared in Tony Hart’s art show then got his own series. Did you get that over there?
      Hope you enjoy watching Chicken Run again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have Wallace and Gromit earrings and one of our favorite lines is ‘cheese, Gromit?’ Curse of the Were Rabbit is a favorite also. This movie? It is wonderful. Our tiny town’s library had one of the animators visit and share with us. She told us a story I’m not sure is very well known. During the making of this movie, the clay figures are often smoothed by fingers made wet by licking. Well, at one point, an entire section of the film ended up in quarantine because one of the makers had and spread chicken pox!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember how popular this movie was and yet – I don’t think I saw it! This looks like something I’d greatly enjoy. Thanks for the reminder – and something family friendly, I’m more inclined towards more PG stuff I have to admit. The special effects for violence and gore has become WAY too real and accepted as perfectly normal in my opinion so it’s nice to watch something sweet. And I like funny, it’s on my To Do list! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aw – it’s been such a long time since I saw this one!! (Can it be really 20 years?! It seems impossible!) And I loved it dearly! Animated stop-motion pictures are so awesome, all that attention and love for details is just so incredible. Unfortunately I only ever saw it in German so I can’t say anything to the actors that lend the characters their voices but Mel Gibson as the Rooster sounds fantastic and very promising. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    And I didn’t know that Laurel and Hardy originates from a northern writer! How perfect! ๐Ÿ˜„ I’m a huge fan of British humour although I think I still have a lot to learn to distinguish the differences.
    And seeing that you also admire stop-motion – have you ever seen ‘Coraline’? It’s just as amazing! ๐Ÿ˜„๐Ÿ’•

    Like

    1. I know – 20 years!! I can’t imagine it without those voices. Tony Haygarth’s Mr Tweedy especially.
      A local writer called Charles Nevin wrote a book called ‘Lancashire- where women die of love’ and part of this explores the humour from this part of the world – Stan Laurel, Eric Morecambe etc. And compares it with the lack of humour from our historic rivals across the pennines in Yorkshire๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜.
      And no – amazingly I have not seen Coraline. Written by Neil Gaiman? I must see it! And I do live stop-motion animation – which is why the original 1933 King Kong will appear later!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, written by Neil Gaiman! ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s fabulous!
    That book’s title sounds very intriguing – I’ll see if I can get a copy in the library.
    I guess the more south the less humour, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Looking forward to your King Kong review! ๐Ÿ˜„๐Ÿ’•

    Liked by 1 person

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