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20 Years Later: Chicken Run

28 June 20 words: Chris King

Egg-cellent or dated? Chris King reviews Chicken Run as it turns 20.

Directors: Peter Lord and Nick Park
Starring: Phil Daniels, Lynn Ferguson, Mel Gibson
Running time: 84 minutes

It’s been 20 years since Chicken Run first aired and the family film market has boomed since. We’ve been treated to the likes of Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out, Coco, Big Hero 6; the list goes on. So how does Chicken Run stack up against this overwhelmingly beloved list?

Well, for starters, it’s just as good as you remember. This is helped largely by the fact that this film caters for all ages, kids watching will laugh at the slap-stick comedy and gasp at the various thrills and spills, while adults will enjoy the small references to The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and Star Trek to name a few. This is exactly what the best family films nail, as parents will be watching with their kids, so why not give them something to enjoy?

The plot itself is tight and the premise unique. Chickens as prisoners desperate to escape from a prisoner-of-war style scenario. As I mentioned, this film is well aware of what inspired it, but you don’t need to have seen these films to find it funny — they’re just added extras that make it shine. The chickens are desperate to escape the threat of death from their farmers, Mr and Mrs Tweedy whose relationship is a highlight in any scenes where it's put front and centre with Mrs Tweedy pulling her hapless husband’s strings.

Pacing is something this film does brilliantly. It never allows itself a lull, clocking in at an hour and a half, its length is its greatest asset. It tells exactly the story it wants to tell with no added filler, needless sub-plots or unnecessary character motivation. Each character is unique, while riffing off people from similar films. Fowler is the classic old English officer, Ginger the plucky hero desperate to leave, Mac bizarrely Mr Scott from Star Trek (we’re not sure either), and Rocky the Steve McQueen token American from The Great Escape. It would be easy for these to just be caricatures, simply mimicking what they were inspired by, but every single one of them goes above and beyond and it’s truly a delight to watch.

Its refreshing refusal to talk down to its audience is still as important now as it was upon release

That said, the real scene-stealers are the Del-Boy and Rodney-style rats, Nick and Fletcher, who aid the chickens in their escape attempts — at a price, of course. They’re the comedy relief in almost every montage, providing much light-hearted comedy alongside the overwhelming threat of immediate death posed to our plucky hens.

For a family film, the themes at play here are quite dark. The chickens face certain death constantly and it certainly gives children pause to think about what they’re eating. It also expects its audience to understand why a person might lie to cover their real identity, which is of course shame. Its then refreshing refusal to talk down to its audience is still as important now as it was upon release.

In terms of looks, this film doesn’t stack up badly at all. Aardman’s trademark claymation gives it a timeless feel that may have dated had they gone down the animated route. It’s helped along by an impeccable score, making every scene feel full of life and real despite the chickens lacking feathers and being made of clay.

All in all this film meets what came after it and in some cases surpasses them. If you’re looking for family fun, fancy a laugh watching chickens be PoWs or simply want to enjoy the deliciously evil Mrs Tweedy, Chicken Run has something for everyone.

Did you know? During the production of the film, thirty sets were used with eighty animators, along with a crew of 180 people working overall. One minute of film was completed with each week of filming.

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