With COVID-19 making life a little harder to live, particularly for movie reviewers, I have decided to go back and watch some classic movies and review them. If you pay even the slightest attention to the news these days, it makes it seem like a seeming apocalypse is afoot. One thing this panic has done for me personally was make it difficult to purchase chicken from the grocery store. I took to referring to my repeated trips to Publix as “chicken runs.” Hence you can see where I came up with the idea to give an account of the film Chicken Run.
Chicken Run came out in 2000, but if you have not seen it before, my apologies if I ruin it. However, if you are like me and are a lover of history, I am willing to bet you have seen The Great Escape (1963). You know the one: World War II prisoner of war camp, tunnel digging, and Steve McQueen (Hilts “The Cooler King”) jumping fences on a motorcycle. That is basically Chicken Run, but with poultry instead of downed airmen and egg farmers instead of Nazis. I know this sounds crazy, but it works, and allow me to explain why.
Typically I am turned off by unoriginality, and when you view Chicken Run through the lens of The Great Escape there is not much new here. Neither is that fair. John Sturges’ 1963 classic is timeless, as are the themes in it. Nazis bad. Need to get away from the Nazis. So, yes, Chicken Run does borrow much from its predecessor, but whereas the the former is more of a straight action flick, the latter has a love story that makes it at least somewhat different . . . aside from the chickens, of course.
Early on in Chicken Run Mr. Tweedy (voiced by Tony Haygarth) delivers the stern warning: “No chicken escapes from Tweedy’s farm!” This, along with the prison-camp-like setting of the coops that house the egg-laying hens, gives a sense of the impending doom for the internees. Yet like anyone who is presented with a pointless existence and threat of ending up on a dinner table, the chickens are pining for freedom and plotting their escape, led by Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha). Their various attempts at breaking loose from the farm are both humorous and heartwarming. Nobody wants to be dinner, and pluckiness (no pun intended) is easy to get behind. Despite the villainous Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (voiced by Miranda Richardson) being a little too easy to root against, the film does a great job of building sympathy by using the classic format mentioned above.
There is one more interesting aspect about Chicken Run, particularly in light of the current troubles caused by COVID-19: community. In order to escape, the chickens must pull together in order to get their make-shift flying contraption over their jailer’s fences. When all we hear about lately is social distancing, it is a good reminder that one of the best ways of getting through difficulties is by coming together. When my diocese made the decision to suspend Mass, this was the message that the priest told his electronic audience, that only a community can survive such a test. The only thing I would add to that is to paraphrase Jesus, who said that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there shall He be. Expect miracles whenever that happens, and chickens escaping their farm could certainly be put in that category.
Chicken Run gets this reviewer’s highest and unequivocal recommendation. It is a film for every member of the family without pandering to any one member of that audience. What kid, be they big or little, would not chuckle seeing chickens trying to run away from their farm? And for adults, they will enjoy the references to classic cinema throughout. So if you are stuck in the house and hunting for something for everyone, check out Chicken Run.