Chicken Run is the first feature from Aardman Studios (co-financed by DreamWorks). It's an old-fashioned, very Bristish "boys' own" adventure. Only the "boys" are hens, desperate to escape death on a concentration-camp like poultry farm, and they're rendered in clay.The stop-motion clay animation (claymation) is stunning. Typical for the Aardman world (most famous for Wallace and Gromit), the hens look nothing like real hens, but the faces are marvellously expressive. Sensibly, directors Nick Park and Peter Lord recorded the voices first and had the faces animated accordingly afterwards. The voice cast, led by Mel Gibson, Julie Sawalha and Miranda Richardson (marvellous as the sadistic farm-owner, Mrs Tweedy) is terrific. There's a couple of stunning set pieces, notably a daring rescue from the pie machine which gets more and more hair (feather?) raising as it goes on.
Not a shot is wasted, but the story (which is full of references to films like The Great Escape) has a very old-fashioned feel. I couldn't get into all the tally-ho Brit-laddish humour, and I don't think kids will come out caring about chickens, the way they did about pigs after Babe. The story has a nice emphasis on teamship - but by the end of the film, this is clarified to mean military teamship, and the natural order is restored when the boorish husband finally stands up to his shrewish wife.I know it's ludicrous to expect much character from animated chickens so I'll stop being churlish. Chicken Run offers a rollicking fun ride and is a lot wittier than the average animated kids' film. But Park and Lord have made claymation so fresh, it's a shame that some of their subsidiary ideas and devices are stale.