Picture a great prison escape movie... now picture it starring chickens. Chicken Run is the hilarious claymation animated movie from the creators of "Wallace & Gromit", a popular British television show. In it, the evil Tweedys run their chicken farm with strict rules – lay eggs or be "chopped". Mr. Tweedy thinks that the chickens are up to something, always trying to escape, but Mrs. Tweedy won’t hear anything of it. But right he is! A clever hen named Ginger is constantly coming up with wild plans for the group’s escape from the coop, where the grass truly is greener on the other side of the fence, though their plans always seem to end up going fowl. That is until a smooth-talking rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson) crash lands in their coop, along with a poster that states he can fly. Convinced that he can help them escape, Ginger enlists Rocky to teach the whole group to fly. But chickens can’t really fly, can they? Well, they’re going to have to find some way – Mrs. Tweedy has decided to change the farm from simple egg collecting to the fully automated production of pies. And unless they can get away soon, the chickens’ dreams of freedom will never be hatched!
Although the movie can appear slow at times, the unique and entertaining animation style is combined with sharp dialogue and a distinctly British style of humor that’s fun for the whole family. Animation buffs will probably be too busy looking at the awesome level of detail that went into every single frame – over 120,000 of them. Plus, you really don’t want to miss out on the sensational ending!
Dreamworks has always been known for producing high-quality discs, and Chicken Run is a fine example. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is flawless. with eye-popping clarity and fantastic shadow detail that make watching the movie an absolute joy. No artifacting or lint is visible anywhere on the transfer, while film grain is practically non-existent. Black levels are solid, along with rich, gorgeous colors and excellent brightness. The dual layered disc contains 6.9 gigabytes of data and is divided into 24 chapters, with the layer change occurring late in the movie at the beginning of chapter 18, or 1:02.43 into the entire film. Animated scene selection screens let you select the exact location you’re looking for.
On the audio side Chicken Run fares rather well, but is not without flaws. The DVD includes a full lineup of Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS ES 5.1 and 2.0 surround tracks, meaning that no matter what your system is capable of this disc is for you. Testing the Dolby 5.1 mix I found it clear and free of distortion, however the dialogue track seemed mixed quite softly compared to the music, making it difficult to understand at times. During long conversations I found it necessary to tweak the volume up, only to end up suddenly with blaring loud music. Interestingly, scenes from the movie incorporated into the documentaries didn’t seem to suffer from the same problem. As for surround and bass material, although there’s isn’t much opportunity for its’ use in the film, you’ll certainly know it when you get inside the "machine"! The disc also includes English subtitles and Closed Captioning data.
Chicken Run is presented on a Special Edition disc loaded with extras – and amazingly this is pretty much as "ordinary" as Dreamworks ever gets. The bonus material all leads from animated menus themed with film sound. The first option is an audio commentary track featuring directors Peter Lord and Nick Park. Next is a 20-minute documentary entitled "The Making of Chicken Run", presented in full screen video and stereo sound. The featurette steps through the creative and technical production of the film, from the cast of thousands [of pounds of clay], to the complex sets and miniature props, to voice talent. Continuing, "The Hatching of Chicken Run" is a 14 minute look at the development of the Ardman’s claymation animation style plus Chicken Run as both a movie concept and technical accomplishment.
For kids, there’s a 17-minute read-along book, complete with narration. Two original theatrical trailers are bundled in 1.85:1 anamorphic video and 5.1 sound. Ironically, the sound on the trailers is much more active than in the actual movie. Also available is a TV spot in non-anamorphic video and stereo sound, along with a sneak preview of Dreamworks’ next 3D computer animated film, "Shrek". The disc also includes text production notes, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, plus a "panic button" and 12 "eggstra" factoids hidden throughout the disc. A small booklet is included with the packaging that describes the technical creation of the movie.
For the computer equipped, Chicken Run includes a number of DVD-ROM bonus features you won’t be able to view with a standard DVD player. These are all accessed from the infamous "PC Friendly" software that is, at least in my case, anything but. Still, there’s a fair bit of chickenized material here: a simple screen saver (more of an advert really), desktop clock, a collection of theatrical posters, a calculator, desktop theme package, "Whack-A-Tweedy" game, coloring book, "Escape the Pie" game, "Ginger Pet" (AKA screen annoyance) and, finally, links to the online theatrical website.
Dreamworks’ low price tag of $26.99 combined with the impressive DVD presentation creates a truly worthwhile purchase for any household. Can you think of a better family film on the subject matter? Thought not!
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on November 24, 2000.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
Sony DVP-S500D DVD Player
Sony STR-GA8ES 5.1 Receiver
Sony 32" XBR250 WEGA TV using Component
Nuance Spatial Baby Grand 3E & StarSat