Mrs. Tweedy isn't fooling. Despite her twee British name, she's not a nice little old lady chicken farmer. She means business. Early in "Chicken Run," she singles out a chicken who hasn't been laying its daily egg and condemns it to a chopping block. Since this is an animated film, we expect a joke and a close escape. Not a chance. The chicken gets its head chopped off, the other chickens hear the sickening thud of the ax--and later, in case there's the slightest shred of doubt about what happened, we see chicken bones.
So it truly is a matter of life and death for the chickens to escape from the Tweedy Chicken Farm in "Chicken Run," a magical new animated film that looks and sounds like no other. Like the otherwise completely different "Babe," this is a movie that uses animals as surrogates for our hopes and fears, and as the chickens run through one failed escape attempt after another, the charm of the movie wins us over.
The film opens as a spoof on World War II prison pictures such as "The Great Escape" and "Stalag 17" (the most important location in the movie is Hut 17). Most of the chickens are happy with captivity and free meals ("Chicken feed! My favorite!"), but one named Ginger has pluck, and tries one escape attempt after another, always being hurled into the coal hole for a week as her punishment. Her cause grows more urgent when Mrs. Tweedy (voiced by Miranda Richardson) decides to phase out the egg operation and turn all of her chickens into chicken pies.
Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) has tried everything: tunnels, catapults, disguises, deceptions. Mr. Tweedy (voiced by Tony Haygarth) is sure the chickens are mapping intelligent escape plans, but can't convince his wife, who is sure they are too stupid. Then a godsend arrives: Rocky the Flying Rooster (voiced by Mel Gibson), an American bird who is on the run from a circus. Surely he can teach the chickens to fly and they can escape that way? Maybe, maybe not. There are many adventures before we discover the answer, and the most thrilling follows Ginger and Rocky through the bowels of the chicken pie machine, in an action sequence that owes a little something to the runaway mine train in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." There are tests of daring and skill in the escape plan, but also tests of character, as the birds look into their souls and discover hidden convictions.