Chicken Run

USA/UK 2000

Reviewed by Kim Newman


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Tweedy's Chicken Farm, somewhere in England, the 50s. Ginger, a hen, plans a series of escape attempts. Despite foiling all of these planned breakouts, the farmer Mr Tweedy is unable to convince his wife that the chickens are organised. Rocky, a rooster who has escaped from a circus, seems to fly into the farm. Ginger enlists his reluctant aid in teaching the chickens how to fly. Mrs Tweedy, tired of low-profit egg farming, orders a new machine which kills chickens to produce ready-made pies. After installing it in the barn, Mr Tweedy singles out Ginger to test the machine. During his rescue attempt, Rocky unwittingly joins Ginger inside the contraption. Before sabotaging the device and breaking free of it, Ginger and Rocky realise that all the farm's chickens are slated for slaughter.

Despite winning the admiration of the chickens, Rocky slips away at night, leaving behind proof he was only able to fly when shot out of a cannon. Ginger calls on Fowler, an aged cockerel who is always reminiscing about his wartime experience, to supervise the construction of an ornithopter out of odds and ends scavenged by rats Fetcher and Nick. Having fixed the pie machine, the Tweedys chance upon the chickens as they prepare for their escape bid; the chickens take to the ornithopter. With the help of Rocky - who unexpectedly returns to the farm - the chickens fly over the farm's fence, dropping Mrs Tweedy, who has been hanging on since the machine took off, and settle in a bird sanctuary.


The high concept behind Chicken Run is that it is a prisoner-of-war film featuring grimacing plasticine chickens in place of Richard Attenborough, John Mills or any other persistent screen escapee from Colditz or Stalag 17. To underline this, there are enormously pleasurable quotes from John Sturges' The Great Escape (1962), the only POW film liable to be familiar to an international audience. After each failed escape attempt, Ginger, the mastermind behind the chicken's plans, is confined to a coal bunker where she bounces a Brussels sprout just as "cooler king" Steve McQueen did a baseball in solitary confinement. The finale of the film also sees a tricycling Rocky, a rooster, pull off (albeit in reverse) the wire-jumping motorcycle stunt that was McQueen's finest moment in The Great Escape.

From the hoary but still-fresh experiences of World War II which the cockerel Fowler recounts to the snatches of early rock 'n' roll ('Flip, Flop and Fly') on the wireless, Chicken Run would seem to be set sometime in the 50s. Not only does this make for some lovely period touches (a Toblerone carton is used for a "chocs away" gag), but the setting allows directors Nick Park and Peter Lord - both leading figures in Aardman, the Bristol-based animation company behind Chicken Run - to play on the fact that an oppressive farm from that time, with its barbed chicken wire and neat rows of wooden huts, bears some resemblance to a movie stalag. Thankfully, they avoid any direct references to modern battery farms, which if transplanted to Aardman-land might seem more like extermination camps than rough-and-ready POW enclosures. This said, the film isn't without its darker moments, notably a post-Babe touch of cruelty when Mrs Tweedy uses a chopper to dispose of an unproductive hen.

The chickens' construction of a homemade flying machine has a precedent in an episode of the 70s television series Colditz where prisoners cobbled together a glider from found materials (which itself echoes a true historical incident). In Chicken Run, the aircraft knocked together by the inmates is a delightful combination of slave galley and airliner with lazily flapping wings. It's tempting here to detect the influence of such film fantasists as Karel Zeman or Terry Gilliam. But the flying machine has a more immediate stylistic predecessor in the elaborate contraptions which featured in co-director Park's award-winning Wallace and Gromit short films. Though the characters in Chicken Run are well defined and have their share of memorable moments, no cast members quite match up to Wallace and Gromit's inspired inventor-dog double-act. The added length of a feature doesn't help: some of the minor players - wartime bore Fowler, aggressive hen Bunty - are one-joke creations who repeat their shtick two or three times with little development and diminishing effect.

Pitched almost as a UK answer to Toy Story, Chicken Run offers a specific British setting (albeit with an American guest star) and employs animation techniques which are (ostensibly) as old-fashioned and hand-crafted as Toy Story's CGI

imagery is high-tech and virtual. Like Toy Story, the tale hinges on bickering between two characters, replacing the past/future opposition of Woody and Buzz with the Brit/Yank opposition of Ginger and Rocky. Ginger, voiced with spirit by Julia Sawalha, is a British escape-film officer incarnate, not satisfied unless the whole prison population can head for freedom, while Rocky, drawled to near-creepy perfection by Mel Gibson, is the hollow blowhard hero who pulls through in the end.

The voice casting - including instantly recognisable turns from Jane Horrocks as the chicken with an obsession with holidays and Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels as wide-boy rats who object to being paid "chicken-feed" - is spot-on. But it's the model work and animation that make these creatures so vivid. With wide eyes and broad grins (hen's teeth are not rare hereabouts) the poultry cast are capable of an extraordinary range of expression, especially during the sad or mildly scary scenes.

Taking a sequence almost at random and breaking it down to its components, you realise just how much physical and emotional texture Park and Lord have worked into crafting their film's seemingly effortless charm. (As with the best children's movies, which are likely to be viewed over again on video by their young audiences, Chicken Run rewards repeated viewings.) The scene in which Ginger discovers the truth about Rocky, for instance, features an inspired narrative device as she joins together two halves of a poster that reveal the rooster can only fly by being shot from a cannon. It's a small masterpiece of cinematic storytelling: as tear-like animated raindrops fall all around, a thunderclap erupts in the distance, acting as a literal burst of understanding and an imagined, mocking echo of Rocky's impression of flight.


Peter Lord
Nick Park
Peter Lord
David Sproxton
Nick Park
Karey Kirkpatrick
Based on an original story by
Nick Park
Peter Lord
Supervising Director of Photography
Dave Alex Riddett
Mark Solomon
Robert Francis
Tamsin Parry
Production Designer
Phil Lewis
John Powell
Harry Gregson-Williams
©DreamWorks LLC/Aardman Chicken Limited/Pathé Image
Production Companies
DreamWorks Pictures in association with Pathé presents an Aardman production
Executive Producers
Jake Eberts
Jeffrey Katzenberg
Michael Rose
Line Producer
Carla Shelley
Associate Producer
Lenny Young
Production Manager
Harry Linden
Mike Solinger
James Beshears
Assistant Directors
Fred De Bradeny
Robert Hurley
Rich Priestley
Will Norie
Tony Tyrer
Lisa Butler
2nd Unit:
Merriel Waggoner
Bridget Mazzey
Tara Cunningham
Timothy Hogg
Patsy Pollock
ADR Voice:
Brendan Donnison
Lyps Inc
Storyboard Supervisor
David Bowers
Storyboard Artist
Michael Salter
Additional Storyboard Artists
Martin Asbury
Réjean Bourdages
Dan Lane
David Soren
Script Collaborator
Pete Atkin
Additional Dialogue
Mark Burton
John O'Farrell
Additional Story
Kelly Asbury
Cody Cameron
Randy Cartwright
Brenda Chapman
Jurgen Gross
Vicki Jenson
Robert Koo
Serguei Kouchnerov
Damien Neary
Simon Wells
Catherine Yuh
Directors of Photography
Tristan Oliver
Frank Passingham
Lighting Cameramen
Simon Jacobs
Andy Mack
Paul Smith
Digital Visual Effects
Computer Film Company
CG Artist
Steve Blake
Model Production Designer
Jan Sanger
Model Making
Model Department Production Manager:
Lizzie Spivey
Deputy Production Designer:
Anne King
Design Team Supervisors:
Kate Anderson
Virginia Mason
Paint Design Supervisor:
Polly Holland
Mould Making Supervisor:
Robert Horvath
Multiples Supervisor:
Graham G. Maiden
Armature Design Supervisor:
Simon Peeke
Senior Costume Designer:
Sally Taylor
Design Team Leaders:
Claire Drewett
Harriet Thomas
Linda Langley
Lisa Newport
Model Makers:
Gill Bliss
Allan Burne
Gavin Jones
Diane Holness
Grant MacDonald
Lee Wilton
Kevin Wright
Additional Model Makers:
John Craney
Mick Hockney
Foam Technician:
Elinor Weston
Mouth/Beak Replacement Co-ordinator:
James Moore
Shane Dalmedo
Nicola O'Tooley
Jane Whittaker
Senior Armature Designer:
Kevin 'Baby' Scillitoe
Armature Designers:
Andrew 'Bloxy' Bloxham
Jon Frier
David Pedley
Mould Makers:
'Slick' Jim Connolly
Matt Pilston
Press Mould Co-ordinator:
Helen Schell
Press Moulders:
Alison Evans
Marguerite 'Mog' Fry
Tina Klemmensen
James Parkyn
Multiples Modelmakers:
Gideon Bohannon
Michael Hares
Claudia Hecht
Nigel Leach
Jemma Proctor
Mark Waters
Liz Watt
Puppet Co-ordinator:
Sheila Clarkson
Puppet Maintenance Co-ordinator:
Rebecca Levine
Puppet Wrangler:
Kate Wadsworth
Graphic Artists
John Davey
Alastair Green
Joanne Smith
Supervising Animator
Loyd Price
Key Animators
Dave Osmond
Merlin Crossingham
Sergio Delfino
Suzy Fagan
Guionne Leroy
Darren Robbie
Jason Spencer-Galsworthy
Jay Grace
Seamus Malone
Ian Whitlock
Teresa Drilling
Jeff Newitt
Christopher Sadler
Steve Box
Tom Gasek
Will Hodge
John Pinfield
Andy Symanowski
Douglas Calder
Stefano Cassini
Terry Brain
Gary Cureton
Mike Cottee
Michael Cash
Martin Davis
Additional Animation
Mike Booth
Tobias Fouracre
Darren Dubicki
Motion Control Operators
Linda Hamblyn
Willy Jason Marshall
Associate Editor
Angharad Owen
Additional Editing
Vicki Hiatt
Additional Production Designer
Roger Hall
Art Director
Tim Farrington
Additional Art Director
Rosalind Shingleton
Props Supervisor
Jane Kite
Farrington Lewis
Set Production Supervisor:
Jon Minchin
Set Supervisor/Lead Engineer:
Jak Goodyear
Set Production Co-ordinator:
Libby Watson
Team Leader Sets/
Pie Machine:
Mike Applebee
Team Leader Sets/Flying Machine:
John Pealing
Team Leader, Pie Machine:
Roddy MacDonald
Lead Engineer, Pie Machine:
Mark Plenderleith
Team Leaders, Model/Props:
Cathy Price
Jo Weeks
Mike Bass
Andy Brown
Anthony Gould
Mike Gould
Mark Gunning
Mathew Healey
Patrick McGrath
Jes Par
Martin Rolfe
John Smith
Spray Shop:
Terry Hathway
Craig Atkinson
Claire Baker
Georgie Everard
Nancy Jones
Duncan Miller
Damien Neary
Lesley Osbourne
Bridget Phelan
Gavin Richards
Ed Sams
Clay Saunders
Lisa Scantlebury
John Smith
Richard Webber
Kathryn Williams
Ruth Wynne
Pie Machine/
Flying Machine
Farrington Lewis
Additional Specialist Props/
Vehicles/Multiple Armatures
Jeff Cliff Model Making Nikki Armstrong
Lincoln Grove
Nick Hudson
Emma Jay
Robert Jose
John Wright Modelmaking
Richard Andrew
Steven Elford
Georgie Everard
Kenny Monger
Adrian Sims
Dave Weaver
Roger Whiter
Ann Wright
Title Design
Picture Mill
Film Opticals
Cine Image
Additional Music
Steve Jablonsky
James McKee Smith
Geoff Zanelli
Bruce Fowler
Harry Kim
Music Supervisor
Marylata E. Jacob
Supervising Music Editor
Richard Whitfield
Score Recorder/Mixer
Nick Wollage
"Ave Maria" - Gracie Fields; "Flip Flop and Fly" - Ellis Hall;
"The Wanderer" - Dion; "Over the Waves"; "Barwick Green".
Dance Consultants
Jesse Newton
Ann Peskett
Graham Puckett
Katherine Wyatt
Additional Recording
Alan Meyerson
Re-recording Mixers
Adrian Rhodes
Mike Prestwood Smith
Supervising Sound Editors
Graham Headicar
James Mather
Dialogue Editor
Tim Hands
Sound Effects Editors
Danny Hambrook
Graham Headicar
Diane Greaves
Ben Jones
Jack Stew
Recording Mixer:
Ted Swanscott
James Mather
Technical Director
Tom Barnes
Voice Cast
Phil Daniels
Lynn Ferguson
Mel Gibson
Tony Haygarth
Mr Tweedy
Jane Horrocks
Miranda Richardson
Mrs Tweedy
Julia Sawalha
Timothy Spall
Imelda Staunton
Benjamin Whitrow
John Sharian
circus man
Jo Allen
Lisa Kay
Laura Strachan
additional chickens
Pathé Distribution
7,980 feet
84 minutes 14 seconds
Dolby Digital Surround EX/
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011