Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Chicken Run (2000)

Screen shot 2015-08-01 at 3.28.26 p.m.

I’m assuming that our friend Nathaniel‘s pick for this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot is tied up to the U.S. release of Aardman animation’s Shaun the Sheepwhich brings me to evaluate my perhaps unpopular opinion that the British claymation studio has always been best suited to short-form narratives. That is not to say that their features are anything but really good movies, it’s just that they present certain flaws that are simply absent from the studio’s short subjects.

Chicken Run was the studio’s first theatrical feature, and a pretty big critical hit, earning rave reviews and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical back in the days before animated films had their own category. For most of the American public, who tend not to watch many animated shorts, this was their introduction to the work of Aardman creatives Peter Lord and Nick Park, and a pretty good one at that.

Chicken Run is an escape-from-prison movie, only instead of violent criminals, our protagonists are a group of chickens trying to escape the horrors of the Tweedy Chicken Farm. And even though a brief 84 minutes are enough to feel the filmmakers trying to stretch their premise to feature length, Chicken Run is an incredibly solid, and somewhat daring movie. It is also, like I said, a very good introduction to the works of Aardman, especially in its blend of madcap silliness, clever humor, and sincere emotional core.

It’s this emotional core that I want to talk about, because the strongest aspect of Chicken Run, and perhaps the most important element in comedies aimed at children, is the intensity of its emotional core. Featuring imagery reminiscent of the Holocaust, Chicken Run can be a very bleak movie. This is, after all, the story of a group of life-long prisoners who will die a horrible death if they don’t escape their prison. Not only does the movie take the plight of its characters seriously, but it presents the horrifying elements of their lives in terms that can be digested and understood by children.

If that weren’t enough, the movie does all of this while being consistently funny, and every once in a while, engaging in some surprisingly dark humor. My pick for the “Best Shot” is one such moment, shortly after the chickens learn the Tweedys have decided to stop being an egg farm and kill the chickens in order to bake them into pies. The shot below shows Babs -a naive Irish hen who spends most of the time knitting- crocheting a noose. It’s an incredibly crude gag that works precisely because it’s not meant to make you laugh. Sure, the filmmakers are showing how clever they are, but they are using that cleverness as a gut punch, exemplified in Bab’s vacant stare at the possibility of her untimely death.

That’s the great thing about Chicken Run, it is a very traditional movie in terms of plot mechanics, but it becomes something much more sentimental and endearing by telling this story from the perspective of a group of claymation chickens. It would be ridiculous if it weren’t so emotionally effective.

Screen shot 2015-08-01 at 4.11.46 p.m.

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2 comments

  1. Shane (@filmactually) · August 12, 2015

    Wow, we chose the same shot! Such a strong, clever image.

    • Conrado Falco · August 12, 2015

      couldn’t agree more. Glad to share such good taste with someone.

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