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MORIARTY's CHICKEN RUN REVIEW!! Remember... It Sneaks Today!!

It's magic, I tell you. Pure magic.

There's no other way to explain what I saw on Thursday night in Century City.

For those of you who have never been to an all-media screening, it's usually a room that considers itself too hip for whatever's showing. They see everything that comes out, almost literally, and they're jaded to most films, especially ones that don't appear with tons of attendant hype.

In the case of CHICKEN RUN, I don't understand anyone who's not already 100% sure they're going to see the film on opening day. Look at the director credit, folks. Nick Park and Peter Lord. What more do you need? That's like if DINOSAUR had actually been directed by Walt Freakin' Disney. Peter Lord is one of the founding partners of the exceptional Aardman Animation, and Nick Park is the brilliant animator whose CREATURE COMFORTS earned the company its first Academy Award, earning two more Oscars since then. Together, the two of them are major talents, exceptional film artists, and the idea of them producing a feature should make you lose your mind from sheer anticipation.

The great news is that the film delivers every possible thrill you could anticipate and then keeps on going. The film is TOY STORY good. The film is brilliantly funny, but it's more than that, even. It's a beautiful and unique piece of film art, and it has to be seen to be appreciated. If you have any love of this medium, you owe it to yourself to walk into this movie with an open mind and a ready laugh.

Which takes us back to Thursday night, to the all-media screening held in Century City. As people settled in around us, and as I listened to people in the lobby, the sense I got was that the film was no one's first choice for the evening. I saw a few people there, animation experts and professionals, who I'm sure appreciated the potential of an Aardman feature but the animation nuts were outnumbered by the general disinterested public by a pretty wide margin. Don't blame DreamWorks. They've been sending out video copies of the Wallace & Gromit films to critics in an effort to ensure that everyone appreciates the pedigree of the picture. Still, as the film began, there wasn't that hush of respect and expectation that you get when it's a "big" picture. The crowd took a few minutes to settle in, to shut up.

I'd seen the opening of the film before, way back last fall, and much of it was the same as I remembered. It was tighter, though, sharper, and there was more material. The stuff that fleshed it out added layers of subtlety that weren't there in the rough pass. The whole opening five minutes is a direct reference to THE GREAT ESCAPE, and before someone starts the "homage vs. ripoff" debate below, allow me to finally educate you on the difference. It's an homage when the filmmaker fully expects us to not only recognize the reference, but for the reference to cause some sort of emotional response in us. It's a ripoff when the filmmaker just lifts something cool and uses it again because he doesn't have something better to use that's original. Believe me, the Aardman team proves how well they're able to build original, exciting set pieces in scene after scene of this film. For the opening, they are making specific pointed reference to THE GREAT ESCAPE, and it's glorious. It's funny even if you don't know the movie, of course, which is another sign of just what awesome skill these guys possess. They're able to make both text and subtext pay off in each sequence. Here, the whole opening sets up the idea that Ginger is the main instigator of each of the escape attempts made by the chickens of Tweedy's Farm. Farmer Tweedy knows the chickens are up to something, but Mrs. Tweedy will hear none of it. She knows that chickens are stupid, and she won't listen to nonsense about them organizing. At the end of the opening credits, we seem to have a pretty good idea of the rules of the world. Ginger will try to escape. Mr. Tweedy will see all of it. Mrs. Tweedy won't believe it. Hilarity ensues.

Nope.

If this were the Hollywood version of the film, that might be true. But Aardman wasn't making a kid's film here, something to slap on the side of a Happy Meal. No, they're making something with a genuine beating heart, something wonderful, and in order to let us appreciate just how alive these chickens are as characters, directors Park and Lord do something that I didn't expect when I walked in.

The chickens all line up for morning roll call, and Mrs. Tweedy comes out to walk the line. As she does, she consults a chart in her hand that tracks egg production. Keep in mind, we're only about eight minutes into the movie right now. Ten at the most. We're still getting to know who's who. Mrs. Tweedy finds one row of nothing but zeros and stops in front of one particular chicken. With no real fanfare, she picks the hen up and walks out of the chicken yard into a small side room of the house, where there's an axe wedged into a stump. As Mrs. Tweedy enters, we find her shadow silhouette on the wall. She lays the chicken down, raises the axe…

And the other chickens hear the unmistakeable CHOP from where they are.

Just like that, the stakes are set. These chickens must escape Tweedy Farm, or they will be killed. A few scenes later, a skeleton on the farmer's table confirms that, yes, they will also be eaten. This is horrifying in the film. It's the cloud under which all of our main charaters live, and even when the film is at its side-splitting funniest (which is frequently), there is a sincere urgency that never lets up.

So many films work overtime to set up a great atmosphere these days, then blow it when they introduce that darn pesky plot. With CHICKEN RUN, Park, Lord, and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick prove themselves incredibly graceful at telling their story with grace and economy, always balancing complex emotions, always managing this huge ensemble of personalities. And make no mistake… these aren't just simple clay chickens that populate this film. No, not at all. These are all wonderful characters who we are delighted to meet and grow to know over the course of the film. Aardman has managed once again to take simple plasticene and give it a soul.

And that's the magic I mentioned before.

When you look into the eyes of Ginger, voiced with great charm by Julia Sawalha of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS fame, you see all the hopes and dreams she's clinging to in the face of seemingly impossible odds. You see the determination that keeps her going each day. When you look into the eyes of Rocky, voiced with a sort of easy smarm by Mel Gibson, you see the ego that just barely masks the panic. You see the moment when he stops being a con and starts making good on his promises, a switch being thrown inside him somewhere. When you look in the eyes of Mrs. Tweedy, given a memorable sense of malice by Miranda Richardson, you see all the accumulated miseries of being a poor farmer's wife, and you see the greed backed up, twisting her from the outside in. You see how little regard she has for anything but her own comfort. All of these things are communicated through the simple clay faces that Aardman specializes in, and I'll be damned if I understand it. I can marvel at it, and I can recognize it for the alchemy that it is, but I don't begin to understand how it is that this amazing team of animators not only find a way to make each of these characters live, but also manage to give them each a different and unique sense of life.

There are other performances worth mentioning here. Jane Horrocks, who stood out as a beacon of wonderful in the truly godawful LITTLE VOICE, is riotously funny as Babs, the least complex chicken in the bunch. There's a delicious blankness to her, a sort of Zen simplicity, and when you look in her eyes… there's nothing but quiet contentment. Behind those particular eyes, it's all green grass and blue skies. Phil Daniels and Timothy Spall are a wonderful, sly comedy duo as Fetcher and Nick, a pair of rats who basically serve the same purpose as Morgan Freeman in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION; they're the ones who can get things. Lynn Ferguson comes across as a female version of Spud from TRAINSPOTTING, her impenetrable Scottish accent providing a great running joke for Mel Gibson's Rocky. Benjamin Whitrow gives great bluster as Fowler, the crusty old RAF veteran who doesn't trust the mysterious Rocky for many reasons, not the least of which is he's a Yank. Fowler's got the single funniest line in the picture, an act three revelation that just destroyed the audience I saw the film with.

Oh, yes… that jaded all-media screening audience. The one that was too hip for the room going in. Well, they were helpless in the face of such a sterling piece of entertainment. By the end of the film, they were cheering and clapping, fully engrossed in the experience. It was amazing to listen to. Of course, I was cheering and clapping just as hard as the rest of them, if not harder. At every turn, there's some fresh delight, some visual pun or verbal pirouette. In scene after scene, Park and Lord prove that their understanding of the language of cinema is as keen as anyone working in live action today. Scorsese… Joel Coen… Spielberg… Fincher… these are the directors who are the true peers to Park and Lord. These guys offer up flawless compositions, a cast directed to perfection, and a remarkable sense of pacing, and they never seem to break a sweat. It all looks easy, effortless. Like the greatest films, this one feels like something that just happened, natural and alive and organic. It's one of those special films you know you're just watching for the first time. You know there's dozens more viewings in the future, and you're already looking forward to them, even before the movie ends.

This afternoon, DreamWorks is rolling CHICKEN RUN out across the country in a studio sneak. If you're one of the ones who is smart enough to go, then you have a duty, the same one that Harry and I have now as well. You have to convince people to go. You'll want to, trust me. After you see this film, you'll feel evangelical about it. You'll want to grab strangers and tell them, "It's not what you think it is! It's amazing! It's the single greatest film about chickens ever made!" If you do that, though, they'll lock you up, so try starting with friends and family. Take them back to see it with you. You won't mind. After they've witnessed the film, they'll be eager to take other people to see it. Word of mouth is going to be crucial to this film. It's got TITAN AE opening a week before it and ROCKY & BULLWINKLE opening the week after. This film has the potential to be one of the summer's biggest sleepers, but it could also turn into this year's IRON GIANT, a perfectly satisfying piece of pop entertainment that simply vanishes without a trace for no good reason.

Don't let that happen. See the film. You'll be so glad you did, and the more of you who take that chance, the more of you there will be to carry the word to others. You'll be convincing, too. You'll rant and you'll rave and you'll try to find the words to describe it, and your friends will see it in your eye… they'll see how surprised you were, how impressed you are, and they'll have no choice but to go, and it won't even matter than you just keep saying the same thing over and over, shaking your head in stunned disbelief…

It's magic, I tell you. Pure magic.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 17, 2000, 8:40 a.m. CST

    sounds good to me

    by dave lister

    I can't wait to see it. Can't wait to see wallace and gromit on the big screen in a couple of years.

  • June 17, 2000, 8:41 a.m. CST

    The childhood trying to get out

    by Nuggster

    I've been starting to worry recently that movies these days only survive with the help of a big cast or even bigger guns/explosions, but I'm sure this film will (hopefully) prove me wrong. It's great that people can enjoy what is essentially a cartoon with no fear of ridicule for it not having at least 5 uzis in it. Now I know that not all releases are gun-ridden, high-octane antics, but when was the last time that we had something almost completely original? It was probably Toy Story 2, itself a sequel. It seems to me that the only truly new ideas are being put into what can easily be classed as "children's entertainment", and this is a damn shame. Chicken Run took a long time to make, primarily because of the animation, but what this has also given us is a film which has had the time to mull over key sequences and get the "actors" to perform just right. What I'm trying to say is TAKE TIME with making a film and the result will be a far more polished affair. Just look at Chicken Run...

  • June 17, 2000, 8:51 a.m. CST

    crackin toast grommit!

    by Daft Mole

    First ! Chicken Run will be superb www.angrykid.com is more superb aardman stuff

  • June 17, 2000, 8:52 a.m. CST

    I WILL BE THERE!

    by Nordling

    Chicken Run will rule. That's it...nuff said.

  • June 17, 2000, 9:06 a.m. CST

    Four fried chickens and a coke

    by reni

    What a brilliant way of convincing people to see this film Moriarty. A great review. Please keep up the hype with this one.

  • June 17, 2000, 9:27 a.m. CST

    Once again, Moriarty comes through.

    by The Pardoner

    Evil geniuses have a way of peering into the essence of things. I've been grabbing complete strangers and championing this movie since I first heard of the concept - my position demands that they treat me with respect, no matter how often I say, "Chicken Run will be the one of the greatest things you've ever seen, plus clay feathers." Sadly, I don't think there's a preview of this 'round my parts... I'll have to content my selves with Jim Carrey's latest. SIGH.

  • June 17, 2000, 9:27 a.m. CST

    SuperTerrificHappyHour..........

    by iAmGladiator

    I don't know what that is, but yesterday I heard there was sneak preview of both Chicken Run and Me, Myself, and Irene, and Huebner Oaks 24 in San Antonio, and I opted for the latter. Tonight at 10, I get to see it, and I wonder if I can get my review posted. Never written one before.

  • June 17, 2000, 11:02 a.m. CST

    THE IRON GIANT

    by Todd

    I am not sure I can see this movie, it might cause me to only write about CHICKENS. I am very affraid.

  • June 17, 2000, 11:28 a.m. CST

    These chickens have lips

    by majorhavok

    I saw CR on Thursday and I liked it a lot. Many of the elements of the "A close shave" are there, with a bit of "A Bug's Life" thrown in at the end. My favorite shot (without giving spoilers) was when you see what one chicken has been knitting while sitting on top a pile of chicken feed - just priceless. Big laughs through the whole 80 mins.

  • June 17, 2000, 12:08 p.m. CST

    Running to Chicken Run!

    by Kentucky Colonel

    4 PM today at Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road. I hope they show it on one of their "Big" screens and not one of their innumerable multiplex screens. Whatever happened to the concept of B-I-G screens? There are so few of them left anymore! Whatever, I will be there with a friend (who I have convinced that this is this year's must see) and I presume I will return to the site later to rant & rave. Bawk-Bawk!!

  • June 17, 2000, 12:14 p.m. CST

    I'll go.

    by Larry_Talbot

    I can't wait!

  • June 17, 2000, 1:04 p.m. CST

    The Summer of Chickens..

    by Devils Halo

    will this be the summer of the chicken? between chicken run and me, myself and irene.. i'll be looking at chickens in a different light.

  • June 17, 2000, 1:59 p.m. CST

    I am seein it today!

    by Baba O'Reilly

    I got my sneak preview tickets and I am so freakin' excited! It looks like brilliant stuff is going on at Aardman Studios and I am looking forward to experiencing their magic!

  • June 17, 2000, 2:27 p.m. CST

    epitone

    by Crouton

    That stinks that your post was deleted. It seems like that answered your question... Yes, Drew McNeely AKA "Moriarity" does run Drew's Script-O-Rama. What's up with deleting that??? Maybe Filmthreat.com's article about Harry has merrit...

  • June 17, 2000, 4:46 p.m. CST

    AWESOME animation Harry! 'MODERN TIMES' RULES!

    by JEDIswimr

    Oh, and I'm sure 'Chicken Run' will too.

  • June 17, 2000, 5:06 p.m. CST

    Was this a great movie?

    by Kentucky Colonel

    I don't know. I had to sit in the second row, like, looking straight up at the moon, and in the row behind me there were upteen fucking little children whose parents were oblivious to the fact that their children ruined my movie experience. The few lines of dialouge I could hear over the kids incessant whinning were classic, but the sum total of those lines added up to about 10 minutes of the movie. If you want to see this movie and be able to enjoy it's "in-jokes" (homages to Great Escape, Raiders, Trek, etc.) go see this wonderful movie after the wee fucking kiddies are in bed. To quote Bill Hicks..."You know what a miracle is? Raising a kid who dosen't talk at the fucking movies!" And you, parents. When your kid starts gabbing his or her sweet little flappers, PLEASE take them outside to the lobby. I paid my money, too, and everyone around you will thank you instead of cursing you (and your little brat Dalton, too. You know who you are).

  • June 17, 2000, 5:50 p.m. CST

    Tastes like...chicken.

    by Oberon

    I didn't need Moriarty's thumbs up to see CHICKEN RUN on Opening Day, but it's nice to read just the same. I'm still perplexed, however, by the lack of KFC merchandising tie-ins...

  • June 17, 2000, 6:32 p.m. CST

    Simply put, one of the best films ever.

    by harosa

    Its rare that I fill up with cheer upon seeing a movie and laugh outloud and get emotional, and the fact that it was an animated movie merely makes the accomplishment all the more relevant. A true classic that will stand the test of time, unlike the rest of the crap permeating this summer so far.

  • June 17, 2000, 6:50 p.m. CST

    "Are those our only choices?"

    by Sorcerer

    Though I utterly adore Julia Sawalha and am seeing the film mostly because of her, Jane Horrocks does look to be a great bonus. She has all the funny lines in the trailer, not to mention a very cute voice.

  • June 17, 2000, 6:57 p.m. CST

    Good things come to those who wait,dollface!

    by user id indeed!

    Well,I've been waiting for this movie for 4 years,and I'll be first in line Friday.I'm glad all the assholes who said "It's just a kiddie flick" for Harry's review are gone,so the people who really understand and appreciate a moobie like this can be heard.My feeling is:a children's movie that REALLY respects its audience is a classic right away.A movie that doesn't rely on endless crotch-hits and poop jokes.A movie that can act as a metaphor for real life emotions and events.A movie where a kid can watch it and go,"Hey,this has happened to ME."A movie that relates to people's lives,so EVERYONE can enjoy it.When you have a movie like that,you have Chicken Run,Toy Story,Toy Story 2,and The Lion King.When you DON'T,you have Baby Geniouses,The Rugrats Movie,Rugrats In Paris(I'd like to see somebody defend this upcoming pile of crap),Pocahontas,and Titan AE.Titan AE will be forgotten quickly enough,but Chicken Run will either A)Thrive at the box office on good reviews,good word of mouth,and good advertising,B)Do not-so-well at the box-office,but find it's audience as a video classic,or C)Be both.Anyway,they're CHICKENS!Chickens are funny!Ha ha ha!Lookit the chickens!Whew!This has been a Look Ma,I'm Roadkill Moment w/User ID Indeed!

  • June 17, 2000, 7 p.m. CST

    Fantasmalicious!

    by Miracleman

    Shazbot! This is one of the best movie's I have seen in a long time! This is quite possibly the best film so far this year. If you did not see the sneak preview of Chicken Run (God Help you!) then I strongly advise you to RUN, DON'T WALK, to this film when it opens for full release. In conclusion, Chicken Run good, fire bad. Anyone who disagrees with me can go scratch! Booya! I wanna see it again.

  • June 17, 2000, 8:09 p.m. CST

    I was bored shitless and everyone I know hated it!

    by GEEKBASHER 3.0

    Chicken Run Sucks! PERIOD! I can appreciate the animation but thats about it!

  • June 17, 2000, 11:44 p.m. CST

    NO! YOU'RE ALL WRONG!!...this should be..THE BIGGEST MOVIE OF TH

    by minquig

    let's make this the year's biggest. it deserves it!!

  • June 18, 2000, 1:57 a.m. CST

    Cartoons are not movies

    by cds

    They are what should be shown before the real movie starts while people get their popcorn and trip over each other to get to their seats.

  • June 18, 2000, 2:14 a.m. CST

    Nick Park's track record

    by Tar Heel

    I own videos of all three "Wallace and Gromit" shorts as well as "Creature Comforts." I will see this movie because Nick Park animated films have never disappointed me. Hollywood hacks could learn a lot about framing, pacing, editing and mise-en-scene (sp?) from Mr. Park.

  • June 18, 2000, 8:45 a.m. CST

    My thoughts on "Titan A.E."...

    by Dave_F

    Why here, you ask? Well, after Alexandra DuPont's fine review a few days ago, I doubt Harry will be posting any more "Titan" coverage, and thus there

  • June 18, 2000, 12:23 p.m. CST

    good but not great

    by Disillusioned

    I caught the sneak preview yesterday. Although the visuals are great, I felt that besides the first and last fifteen minutes(which were funny and exciting) the movie seriously dragged in the middle to the point of boredom. The Wrong Trousers is a much better film.

  • June 18, 2000, 11:25 p.m. CST

    Chicken Run

    by The Big T

    Big T here. Wow what a month for animation F2K,Chicken Run,Titan AE. As for Chicken Run it wont be this year's Iron Giant and if it i am gonna kill somebody. Anyway quick TRUE story that happened to me kinda off topic. About a week ago a couple of kids with ADD came to my house and were acting horribly. They were bouncing off the walls and what not. So as a last resort I decided to stick my copy of Iron Giant into the VCR. And they were glued. The film was so damm good that kids with ADD loved it. If only Warner Bros had done a better marketing job Iron Giant would have a fat wallet right now. Sure hope they dont fuck up with Osmosis Jones. Big T out PS see chicken run or I will hunt you down cut off your nuts and stick them down your throat.

  • June 19, 2000, 3:17 a.m. CST

    EXCERPTS FROM THE JOURNAL OF BRIAN DePALMA part 210

    by Brian DePalma

    "CHICKENS, fucking CHICKENS. Somebody has made a film about chickens. And Steven fucking paid for it. He said , 'it looks good'. Yeah well fuck him, why has he forsaken me. I WANT A DIRECTING OSCAR before Marty. Only you can help me Steven. Stop making films about chickens and give me one of those AMERICAN BEAUTY type scripts. I will clean up you little bastard."

  • June 19, 2000, 3:27 a.m. CST

    "I Don't Like Gravy!"

    by Droz

    I'm SO There!!! I Love Aardman & the cast sounds great!! I loved Jane Horrocks on AbFab!

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