Instead of talking about the behind the scenes information for this movie, let’s instead talk about Aardman Animations. Aardman is a British animation studio based in Bristol, and it’s well known for using stop-motion animation techniques, usually using moldable clay.
Aardman, founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, began in 1972 as a low-budget project. The two of them wanted to realize their dream of producing an animated motion picture, but they started off providing animated sequences for the BBC series, Vision On, meant for deaf children. In 1975, they created a segment called “Greeblies”, using clay animation and stop-motion photography. That segment inspired Morph, a simple clay character. They also created a few animated segments for adults, including Down and Out and Confessions of a Foyer Girl, both using real life conversations as soundtracks.
In 1991, the studio won its first Academy Award, for Park’s short film, Creature Comforts. In that year, they also developed their most well-known property, Wallace and Gromit. We’ll talk more about the pair when we get to the Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit feature film. In 1997, Aardman and DreamWorks announced that they would team up to co-finance and distribute Chicken Run, Aardman’s first feature film. The deal was that Aardman would make four other films, estimated to be completed over the next 12 years.
Chicken Run was first conceived in 1995 by Lord and Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park, who would end up co-directing the movie together. They put the movie onto the market, trying to find a distributer. Clearly, DreamWorks won over Disney, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, largely due to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s persistence. During the production of the film, 30 sets were used with 80 animators, yet due to how complex and delicate Claymation can be, one minute of the film was completed each week of filming. If you want to know more, there are plenty of documentaries about the Claymation process out there. It’s a fascinating style of moviemaking, and one that creates a neat and unique look that’s still hard to replicate. It can also be very time consuming.
Chicken Run released in June of 2000 to high critical praise, earning a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 8.1/10. Roger Ebert praised the film by calling it “A magical new animated film that looks and sounds like no other … as the chickens run through one failed escape attempt after another, the charm of the movie wins us over.” The movie also received numerous nominations across a number of categories and groups, winning several Best Animated Feature awards and even winning Best Feature Film at the Genesis Awards.
The movie earned $225 million on a $45 million budget, making it both Aardman Animations’ most profitable feature film, and the highest earning Claymation movie of all-time. It’s also worth noting that in April of this year, a sequel was announced.
Like Ebert said, this movie contains a lot of charm. The basic plot is that a bunch of farm chickens are trying to escape. It opens up with a montage of escape attempts, each failing in their own way. It’s amusing how Ginger, the lead character, is often tossed into a form of Solitary Confinement after every attempt. The sets are visually creative, organizing the chicken farm almost like a POW camp. But as the plot moves forward, it’s revealed that the farmers no longer intend to harvest the chicken eggs, and are installing a giant machine to turn the chickens into pies. Escaping just became a lot more important.
There’s a lot to like about this movie, starting with the characters. Ginger, voiced by Julia Sawalha, is the lead character. She’s smarter than the other chickens and determined to escape. There’s Rocky Rhode (Mel Gibson), a circus cockerel who crash-lands in the farm after a stunt, and stays to help “teach” the chickens to fly. The two of them have great chemistry together. And instead of a traditional third-act breakup, Rocky Rhode kind of flees, worried that the charade he was kind-of forced to put on would anger Ginger. In reality, there’s no sense of betrayal either way. It’s nice that even though they used the most tired cliché in romantic comedies, they find a way to soften the blow by making it not an actual breakup.
In addition to those two, there’s Melisha and Willard Tweedy, the farmers. Melisha is greedy and a bit caustic, who wants to sell the pies for a lot more money than the eggs. Willard is oafish and unintelligent, but cruel to the chickens and at least smart enough to realize Ginger is pretty much leading the chickens’ escape attempts. There’s also a dim-witted chicken who’s always oblivious to what’s going on, an old cockerel who keeps bragging about his time in the Royal Air Force, a Scottish mad scientist chicken and plenty more. The wide variety of characters within the small cast makes for some delightful interactions. And somehow, I don’t think this movie would feel right without all the British accents because of the general tone.
It’s hard to talk much more about this movie without spoiling the fun, so I’ll leave it at that. This is just a charming, entertaining movie. Kids will likely enjoy the somewhat cartoony tone. Adults will likely enjoy the wit behind a lot of the humour and the sense of irony in the movie’s plot. This is worth checking out if you haven’t seen it before. I remember watching this in theaters way back and I enjoyed it then. It’s just as entertaining now as it was. I don’t know why I haven’t bothered to watch this movie again until now.
I’ve decided that I will be looking at DreamWorks’ only straight-to-video release next. That’s Joseph: The King of Dreams, a sort-of prequel to Prince of Egypt. After that, it’ll be DreamWorks’ first mega hit, Shrek. That’ll be it for this month’s DreamWorks Blogathon. Next month I’ll go back to my James Bond Blogathon, looking at odds-and-ends that don’t quite fit the other categories. Then we’ll get back to DreamWorks in August.