[box cover]

Chicken Run

Animated films don't just need to be drawn, they need to be written as well. And story sense, not to mention good writing, is what separates Nick Park and Peter Lord of Britain's clay animation specialists Aardman Animation from their competitors. In their short subjects and commercials, the duo seek to create literate and witty stories and amusing character sketches. And thanks to the Hollywood clout of DreamWorks, the filmmakers graduated from short films to the full-length feature Chicken Run, and it's both a narrative delight and a visual treat, offering a story that is legitimately suspenseful and achingly witty, and fit for child and adult alike. Lord and Park admit that the film is an amusing take-off on The Great Escape — in this case, though, the detainees are chickens on a British chicken farm. Led by the indefatigable Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha, the daughter on Absolutely Fabulous), the all-too-passive hens attempt many breakouts that only end in failure, hounded by hounds and rounded up by Mr. Tweedy (Tony Hagarth), who throws Ginger into the film's version of a prison-camp cooler. Into their midst plunges Rocky Rhodes (Mel Gibson), a refugee from an American circus. Since he seems to be able to fly, Ginger convinces him to stick around and teach all the others the intricate secrets of flight. His lessons fail; meanwhile, Ginger and the others learn that the dread Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) is turning the failing chicken farm into a chicken pot-pie manufacturing plant. The chickens' task suddenly becomes more urgent, and Ginger and Rocky set up the circumstances for one last attempt to escape. Park and company have infused Chicken Run with verbal wit and endearing characters. The tale is tightly constructed, with a perfect balance of main plot and subsidiary characters, and the animation is the best that Aardman has done yet. DreamWorks' DVD edition of Chicken Run comes with an anamorphic widescreen transfer (2.35:1) that is beautiful, with good color balance and plenty of detail. It's simply one of the best discs I've yet seen. The audio is a different matter, but only slightly. It's good, but not great. The film comes in both Dolby Digital and DTS, as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround. Based on a sampling of all three, the DTS best utilizes the full sound potential of the movie, but not fully until later in the film. John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams's score is really the major beneficiary of the sound construction. The supplements are, for the most part, very good. There is an extensive, detailed audio commentary with Lord and Park in which they lovingly chronicle the making of the film, which took three years. There are also two rather conventional promotional documentaries, Poultry in Motion: The Making of Chicken Run and The Hatching of Chicken Run. One of the more unusual features is a 17-minute long "read along" version of the movie, presumably for kids (it's like a moving storybook). DVD-ROM features include "Escape the Pie Machine" and "Whack a Tweedy" games. The disc also includes two trailers and one TV spot, plus a sneak preview trailer of a forthcoming DreamWorks movie called Shrek. Production notes, talent files, easter eggs with triva bits. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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