Chicken Run

Chicken Run (2000)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Read-Along, Production Notes, DVD ROM support, Trailers & TV Spots, Biographies

Ever wonder what chickens do when you’re not watching? Okay, probably not but thus is the premise of Dreamworks animated feature ’Chicken Run’, a terrifically entertaining film for kids and adults alike. ’Chicken Run’ marks the debut feature-length film from Aardman Studios and the creators of the award-winning ’Wallace & Gromit’ shorts. A marvel of technology and simple good storytelling, Dreamworks offers yet another stellar DVD presentation with this special edition of ’Chicken Run.’

The film tells the story of a group of English hens who, lead by the tireless Ginger (Julia Sawalha), devise one schematic after another to escape the evil Mr. And Mrs. Tweedy’s chicken farm, only to fail time and time again. The chickens incessant planning bears a heavy price. If they do not meet their egg-laying quota, they can plan on finding themselves laid across the chopping block! A glimmer of hope arrives from the sky, as Rocky the Rooster (Mel Gibson) lands inside the fence one afternoon and makes a deal with Ginger to teach her and the rest of the hens how to fly, in exchange for letting him hideaway from the Circus, where he was a main attraction. The chicken training begins lead by Rocky and while they show little promise, they never lose hope. But the situation becomes extreme as Mrs. Tweedy, tired of making miniscule profits from the eggs, orders a pie-making machine, a terrifying metal deathtrap where chickens go in, and pies come out. With time a matter of grave importance, the chickens have to band together and hatch what must finally be a successful plan or risk ending up embedded in dough on the aisle of a grocery store.

This film is really likable and although the year isn’t over, will likely and deservedly so, end up on a few best of lists for 2000. The jokes are pretty funny and the story calls on some nice plot points from prison movies like ’The Great Escape’ and ’The Shawshank Redemption.’ Watching Ginger being thrown into the coal hatch for solitary confinement over and over is an excellent visual reference for adults familiar with these kind of stories. But the beauty of ’Chicken Run’ is in the chickens themselves. The animation is immaculate. The level of emotion the creators pull simply from two plasticine eyeballs is almost a revelation. There is no doubt these characters are alive and while there is spectacle in the simple scenes of conversation, the most impressive feat in any Aardman film I’ve seen, and especially in this one, is movement. Watch Rocky and Ginger run through the pie-making machine in Chapter 15 or check out the final chase scene in the last two chapters and you may find yourself shaking your head. How the crap do they do that?!? The camera is moving, the characters are moving, the backgrounds are changing, and it all comes together flawlessly. It truly is a marvel to behold, frame by frame by frame.

Ahh, Dreamworks. You know when you see that logo that you’re about to witness a great DVD picture, and ’Chicken Run’ is no exception. Presented in a 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> ratio, the video looks stunning. The image is clean and clear with no artifacts or colorwash, and blacks are deep and to the pitch. The detail is so fine that I found myself searching for fingerprints or any kind of imperfection with these clay creations, yet not surprisingly found none. Watch the first roll call in chapter 3 and look at the gorgeous thanksgiving-like colors. The reds, browns, and oranges are separated perfectly and just look beautiful. Also check out the dance (yes, chickens can dance) in chapter 13 and watch how the different lights move on the wall and the foreground stands out at times with clarity and impact, yet never sacrificing the depth of the background. Another outstanding picture from Dreamworks.

Animation films offer a great canvas for the use of sound, as proven on this disc which offers your choice of <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1, <$DTS,DTS> 6.1 ES, and <$DS,Dolby Surround> 2.0, all in English only. As expected the DTS sounds a bit fuller, particularly in the low end during most of the scenes with the pie-making machine, but the Dolby Digital track is not disappointing in the least. If there is a complaint to be had, it is that the use of the surround channels seems somewhat limited. The dialogue from the center channel is a dynamic standout, but I wished there were a little more to offer in the distant sound effects department. That aside, the terrific score and always enjoyable clucking makes for an enjoyable listen.

The feature looks and sounds great, but Dreamworks doesn’t stop there, offering up a decent number of special features, including standout DVD-ROM features. All too often, studios will package their discs as containing DVD-ROM content which proves to be nothing more than a link to an online website, or maybe a glimpse at other discs they would like you to buy. ’Chicken Run’ is in a different category, however, offering a desktop theme complete with sounds, icons, and a screensaver, two amusing and addictive interactive games, a virtual pet, theatrical posters and unused art, a clock, and even a calculator! Very high marks in this category.

For those without DVD-ROM capability, there is a running commentary with directors Peter Lord and Nick Park that is, as expected, technical and enlightening. Also included are two behind-the-scenes featurettes, which are decent, but a tad disappointing. The first and longer of the two, is called ’Poultry in Motion: the Making of Chicken Run’ and spends a lot of time with the actors and going over the story and offers some basic information on the animation process, recording the foley effects, and composing the score. The second featurette, called ’Hatching Chicken Run’ is a bit of a let down because it repeats some of the same video and sound bytes from the other featurette, but does, however, spend more time with the directors, talking about the history of Aardman and the process of getting ’Chicken Run’ off the ground. Some entertaining moments, such as watching Mr. Braveheart sing, but nothing really outstanding.

The disc also boasts three trailers, including the ’Mission Impossible 2’ and ’Gladiator’ spoofs, as well as a sneak preview of the computer animated film ’Shrek’, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz. There is also a feature called a Read-Along which will remind older viewers of the read-along books that came with ’45’s and the beloved beep which signaled it was time to turn the page. Another cute feature is called the Panic Button, which you’ll understand as soon as you see it, but probably won’t utilize it too many times in the future. Finally, there are the usual cast and crew bios, production notes, and even a few Easter eggs that provide little facts about the making of the film.

’Chicken Run’ is a film that is easy to recommend to any and all age groups. The special edition DVD from Dreamworks continues in their line of excellent quality and value. You will know from the white snapper case that this is a family film, so keep it in mind when viewing some of the special features which are prominently aimed at the younger audience. But with picture and sound this good, with a film this technically well made of a story that is so much fun, it should prove hard to resist not owning this one. And have fun spotting the references to ’Braveheart’, ’Star Trek,’ and ’Raiders of the Lost Ark!’