Chicken Run - A Look at the Story
By Vicki Tracy

 

 

 

 


The Story
They are prisoners in a chicken coop guarded by a cruel warden with barbed wire standing between them and freedom. Can a fear of death, and dreams of freedom, lead a troupe of chickens to successfully escape from Tweedy's Chicken Farm? These issues are explored in DreamWorks Chicken Run, sweeping through the U.S. Box Office and forcing analysts to wonder if some people will give up eating chicken after seeing the film.

In Chicken Run, every escape is a dead-end and the ringleader of the chickens, Ginger, is thrown into solitary to do hard time. But these chickens will never give up, for they know that if they don't produce enough eggs they will wind up as someone's dinner. Worst yet, word in the coop is that Tweedy is going to turn all the chickens into chicken pie, making the need for escape more pressing.

The chicken clan is now hatching its most daring escape plan. With the help of Rocky (The Lone Free Ranger), these chickens plan to fly the coop. Are they really organized or are rumors of their organization just a bunch of chicken feed?

The Concept
In 1994 Aardman Studios won an Academy Award for its animated short film, The Wrong Trousers (which at the time was their longest short at 30 minutes). It was after this achievement that the team started having serious talks about producing its first full-length feature. They felt confident that if their storytelling techniques were good at this length that they could successfully venture into feature length storytelling.

The Aardman team asked itself two questions regarding their first feature length feature:

1) What would the story of this new feature animation be about?

2) Where would they get the finances to accomplish such a project?

Aardman Studios knew that the kind of money needed would have to come from America. In addition, having access to Hollywood distribution and marketing would only secure the success for the movie. Peter Lord and Nick Park knew that they would need an agent between them and the studios of Los Angeles. Canadian producer Jake Eberts, who was associated with Pathe studios, step in as their contact. Aardman meet the right people at the right time.

Now with the money and power behind them, Lord and Park needed a story. Dozens of ideas poured in about legends, fairytales, and popular classics. But the shoes just didn't seem to fit properly. None of the stories could truly inspire the Aardman artists. They thought about doing their first feature on their already popular Wallace & Grommit series. However, Lord and Park wanted this feature to introduce new characters and new challenges.

Park, out of habit, liked to always doodle in his notebook. This sometimes created visual gags that would be considered for one of Aardman's shorts. During one these "doodle sessions," Park sketched a chicken trying to dig its way under a fence. After some thought he determined that this sketch had the power to be turned into a humorous feature film. Chicken Run.

Even though Lord loved the idea, it was sheer terror to even begin imagining how to animate the form of a chicken! Skinny legs, big round bodies covered with feathers is something you generally want to stay away from when doing an animation.

"You can't do feathers in Plasticine, you can't do thin legs, and the bodies are going weigh a ton," said Lord. Even so, the wackiness of doing chickens proved to be too irresistible for the two directors at Aardman and the green light was finally given.

Lord and Park drew story inspirations from P.O.W. movies and a short story by Anthony de Mello titled "The Golden Eagle," which is a story about a baby eagle who is raised by chickens and believes it is a chicken. He lives and dies not realizing who he is and what he is capable of becoming. It was this lesson that inspired the theme in Chicken Run - a yearning ambition to go beyond the obstacles that are imposed by others. Ginger hatches this theme in the hearts of her fellow chickens, who never had a desire to escape until she painted a brighter picture of life outside the coop. But it wasn't until Lord and Park combined their talents with scriptwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, did the story come together as it's seen in the movie.

Kirkpatrick wasn't Aardman's first choice because he was American, and both Lord and Park always believed that the best scriptwriter for Chicken Run needed to be a British writer. But when things didn't work out with their British writer, Jack Rosenthal, Eberts recommended Kirkpatrick. He assured the two directors that this was their film and that he was not here to take over but to realize it. It didn't take long for the three to develop a wonderful working relationship. Kirkpatrick was the American coming into the hen house, which sparked the idea of making Rocky's character an all American rooster invading the scene. It also staged the set for the love conflict between Ginger and Rocky in the beginning; sort of a clash of cultures. Park then sparked the idea of the circus and Rocky being blasted out of it and landing in the chicken coop.

Other ideas flowed and finally the basis of the story, plots and twists were worked out. Each of the three story developers had their strengths to bring the process to a successful realization. Lord was excellent in visualizing the entire story and the sensibility of it. Park was talented in the area that needed great detail and developing the moments of the story. Kirkpatrick guided them along the way interjecting ideas and workable scenarios for a movie.

The result... Chicken Run.

--

Vicki Tracy is editor of Animation Artist Magazine.


Chicken Run - Characters

GingerGinger is a hen on a mission to lead her flock to freedom before it's too late. Although she may be capable of escaping, she will not leave anyone of her fellow hens behind. Often she risks getting caught and is thrown into the coal bin for "solitary confinement" by Mr. Tweedy as punishment in order to protect her friends. She dares to dream the impossible for everyone and gives the flock it's courage to go on. She longs to escape, but she wants that for all her friends too. After all their efforts have failed one of the hens tells her the odds of breaking out are one in a million, Ginger simply replies, "Then there's still a chance."

Julia Sawalha says this about her character, "She's very kindhearted, though she comes across as a bit bossy at times, but it's only because she wants the best for all her mates."

 

RockyRocky is a "free" rooster and sweeps the chickens off their feet. He's the first young rooster in the hen house they've seen for a while. His saying in the beginning is simply "I've got my own problems, doll face." A fugitive from the circus, he's on the run and finds out that he needs them as much as they need him. Ginger believes that he can fly and convinces Rocky to teach them in exchange for hiding him. He plays along until he falls in love with Ginger. Not able to confront her with the truth about how he really flies he runs away. This cocky rooster soon learns what it means to love and become the hero to help save the day.

This romance "follows the usual formula," Mel Gibson jokes about his character. "Rooster meets hen, rooster and hen fall in love, rooster loses hen...you know."

 

BabsBabs is a very small minded hen who loves to knit with a British accent. She has very little concept of the danger they are all in. She is a sweet and innocent chicken. Everytime Ginger comes back from solitary confinement, Babs believes she has "gone away on 'oliday, then." After all the hard work on training to fly, Babs forgets to tell Ginger that she hasn't laid any eggs for three days. When roll call is called everyone fears the worst that Babs will be the next chicken to go to the chops and become a Tweedy's main course dinner.

"Just because she's a larger chicken doesn't mean she has to have a larger voice," says Jane Harrocks, who played Babs. "I think it's quite nice that her voice is sort of sweet and innocent, which fits her personality."

 

Mac Mac is the inventor and engineer who helps Ginger make all the escape plans come to life and work. After many attempts of flying with Rocky's training methods and not one hen succeeding in flying, Mac comes to the conclusion that they need "more thrust." When all else fails, it's Mac who engineers Ginger's masterpiece of an escape craft. She is constantly communicating with Ginger, being her right hand chicken.

 

 

 

Bunty is a tall British speaking hen, who lays the most eggs a day. She prides herself on this, however she is always glad to give her eggs to those chickens who did not meet there egg quota and save them from the chop. Bunty is not only a good egg layer but also a good doubt layer. She is discouraged easily at all these unsuccessful escape attempts. The last straw for her is when it seems all hope is gone and she begins picking on Mac, but it's not until Fowler steps between them does an outright chicken fight start. She is sick and tired of all this talk about Fowler's air force days. But when it comes time for hard work and working together on the great escape machine, you can count on Bunty to pull her fair share of the work.

 

FowlerFowler is the old rooster of the hen house, who loves to tell his tall tales of his glory days in the RAF (Royal Air Force). When Rocky first comes on the scene, the old rooster is suspicious of this American Rooster saying, "Poppycock! Pushy Americans, always showing up late for every war. Overpaid, oversexed, and over here!" He hates having to share his bunk with Rocky and grumbles untiringly about him being here. However, over the course of time Rocky seems to prove himself to Fowler after rescuing Ginger from the hands of the Tweedy's and gives Rocky his entire bunk.

At the end Fowler proves his own worth as he's nominated to pilot their escape craft.

 

 

Mrs. Tweedy is the villainous woman who runs the egg farm. Her only thought is for her pocket book. If the chickens do not lay enough eggs for her to profit from, she takes them to the chop and they end up as dinner on her table. It is she who calls all the shots and makes all the business decisions. After doing the accounting books Mrs. Tweedy is unhappy with her profit margin and her eye catches a glimpse of a magazine telling her how to turn an egg farm into a gold mine, by making and selling chicken pies. She does her own agenda and refuses to listen to a word from Mr. Tweedy.

Miranda Richardson comments about her character, "She's vile to the chickens; she's vile to Mr. Tweedy...she's relentless really." She gets her due reward in the end.

 

Mr. TweedyMr. Tweedy is the real owner of the chicken farm. It has been in his family for many generations. But when he married Mrs. Tweedy she took over. He cowards to her every whim. When he tries to tell her that the "chickens are organized" she tells him to shut up that chickens don't do things like that. Mr. Tweedy has a bone to pick with Ginger. He is always catching Ginger escaping and throws her into the coal bin to do time. When Mrs. Tweedy tells him to get a chicken for the pie machine, he replies, "I know just the one."

 

 

Nick is a British speaking rat. He is the ring leader of the twosome partnership with Fletcher. When Ginger needs items she calls on Nick and Fletcher to make a deal with them. She gives them feed, they get her the things she needs for her escape plan. But when the stakes are high he bargains for more than feed. Nick wants their valuable eggs this time. Eventually Nick and Fletcher make a deal with Rocky for his eggs. Nick's the smarter of the two.....well, just a little. He soon figures it out the Rocky can't lay eggs, "it's a lady's thing apparently."

 

 

Fletcher is Nick's partner in crime. He's even dumber than Nick. However, Ginger still doesn't trust either one of them. But when Mrs. Tweedy doesn't care about their eggs anymore, Ginger then bargain their eggs for the rat duo to get all the necessary equipment and supplies to make their grand escape. These rats become Ginger's accomplices and truly help her and the folk escape.

 

 

 

 


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