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CHICKEN RUN

by: Michael Dequina

With its Burger King promo tie-in and Saturday morning advertising campaign, DreamWorks is going the traditional marketing route and selling the claymation feature Chicken Run to the young 'uns. While that strategy may just yet succeed in drawing in family audiences, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the grown-ups made a return trip all by themselves, for the sophisticated humor of Peter Lord and Nick Park's very funny comedy is more likely to strike a nerve with adults.

That's because the film is a savvy satire of prison break movies--it's just that it's told through clay animation and its main characters are poultry. Of course, it's those very qualities that does give it kid appeal, and that demographic won't be disappointed. That the animation is remarkably fluid and the characters so memorably drawn is beside the point; one look at the chickens' goofy, toothy grins are enough to get a giggle from the younger set, and the basic story (farm chickens hope to escape captivity with the help of a "flying" rooster) is simple enough for them to follow and embedded with enough broad physical comedy to keep them interested.

Adults will also be laughing, but mostly because of the sharp details in the script from screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, working from a story by Lord and Park. The joke of the opening moments, during which the chickens' fearless leader Ginger (voiced Julia Sawalha) is repeatedly thrown into a dumpster (a.k.a. the "hole"), will be fly over the tots' heads. But the prison references run even deeper; the Tweedy farm is not unlike a Nazi death camp, a parallel made all the more blatant when the maniacal Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) decides to use her traditionally egg-laying hens for a different type of food source. Laughs are also come from the culture clash between England and America, for Rocky (Mel Gibson)--the apparent savior who comes falling from the sky--is the lone Yank in a Brit coop.

While great looking in its own respect, Chicken Run's visuals don't inspire the same type of awe and wonder as those in the season's other, more technologically-advanced animated entries, Dinosaur and Titan A.E.. But Chicken's endearing low-tech quality just makes it a lot warmer and likable. That it is also a lot smarter is just an added bonus.

RATING: **** (out of *****)

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