ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.03 - JUNE 2000

Aardman’s First Feature Egg-stravaganza!

by Andrew Osmond

Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy take roll call at Tweedy’s Egg Farm, where any chicken who doesn’t make her egg-laying quota can meet a "fowl" fate. © DreamWorks Pictures.

Standfirst: Aardman Animations does The Great Escape. With chickens. For some readers, that will be all they need to know. For others, read on...

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. All the chickens in Chicken Run are bona fide fowl. There are no penguins stalking the shadows with strategically placed rubber-gloves on their heads. This is not Wallace and Gromit IV, though that may come in a few years' time. Sorry, Feathers McGraw fans.

The Characters
The good news is that Chicken Run, directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, introduces us to a packed cast of Aardman newcomers, feathered, furry, nice and nasty. It's the 1950s in the North of England, and in the confines of Hut 17 on Tweedy's chicken farm, one fowl has had enough of her dark and dreary life. Ginger has a vision of escape to a better world, beyond the tyranny of cruel, chicken-hating Mrs. Tweedy. Unfortunately, she's no leader and can't convey her urgency to her apathetic fellow captives. These include the deeply dippy Babs, a featherbrain who asks, 'Have you had a nice holiday?' each time Ginger returns from solitary after a failed escape attempt. Then there's Bunty, stoical and realist, whose attitude amounts to: 'Our mothers were egg-layers, our grandmothers were egg-layers, what's the big deal?'

Old Fowler is the farmyard cockerel, an ex-RAF mascot and military bore, whose life is a litany of his former glories in the service. (Naturally, the chickens ignore him.) Ginger's only initial ally is Mac, a mad genius inventor and the brainbox who implements her escape schemes. Mac is a fast-talking Scot, but unlike a not too different Star Trek character, she has a good Scots accent. The rats Neck and Fetcher operate the black market economy, trading stolen goods in return for eggs. Presiding over all is the fearsome Mrs. Tweedy, scheming about how she can dispatch the loathsome chickens and make a buck in the process. The henpecked Mr. Tweedy (sorry) is a simple soul, with a slightly barmy belief that the chickens are up to something...

Ginger shows her fellow flock a plan of escape with the help of heroic Rocky, the ultimate flying rooster. © DreamWorks Pictures.

One of the most important characters makes a dramatic entry. Early in the film, Mrs. Tweedy disposes of a non-egg-laying chicken named Edwina. (Note to British readers: Aardman denies the name has any connection to a certain egg-phobic Tory politician.) The other fowl are traumatised, and Ginger, in utter despair, offers up a forlorn prayer for help, from anywhere. At that moment, there's a distant boom, a flash and a character drops out of the sky. It's Rocky the Flying Rooster -- at least that's what the poster with him says. Rocky is an all-American hunk, to the delight of the womenfolk and the dismay of Fowler. Unfortunately, as Ginger finds, Rocky is also an all-American sweet-talking total fraud. Or is he?

It's the friction between Ginger and Rocky which drives the story. After considering several movie couples, the creators decided to model the pair on Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, whose volatile screen chemistry delighted audiences from their first team-up in Woman of the Year (1942). The cross-generation culture clash was inspired by films like Rock Around the Clock (1956), while the Anglo-American theme -- with plenty of digs at both sides of the Atlantic -- is in the tradition of pics like A Fish Called Wanda. The directors confess they were nervous how audiences would react to some of the American jabs, until they heard the laughs in preview screenings.

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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.


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