The least brilliant Aardman animation I've seen to date. That's not to say that it's bad, of course. I personally prefer Flushed Away
and Wallace and Gromit
, but this was still loved by all the world and did a ton at the box office. Budget $45 million, global takings $224,834,564. Whoah. It didn't do anything at the Oscars, which is unusual for Nick Park, but there had apparently been such a push to get it nominated for Best Picture that it's the reason why the Best Animated Feature category was invented the following year.
The story (as if you all don't already know) takes place on a Yorkshire chicken farm in 1959. The humans (Mr and Mrs Tweedy) think they're involved in egg production. The chickens think it's a World War Two prison camp. Cue escape attempts.
What's great about the film is all things Aardman. The funniest sequences are visual, in which the animators have simply been let off the leash to make us laugh with chickens dancing, fighting, panicking or trying to fly. These are a joy to watch. Sometimes the film will do things for which there's no excuse except "it looks good"... and you don't care, because that kind of thing is the whole reason you're watching the film. Mrs Tweedy's plan doesn't make economic sense and there's some dodgy aerodynamics, but that's absolutely fine because it's in the service of mad contraption action scenes. Similarly this film means you can no longer use the phrase "rare as hen's teeth", while Fowler looks like the Muppets' Sam the Eagle.
All these are good things. They give character. There are also some remarkably subtle moments in the plasticine acting.
What's less memorable is the character work. There are a few individuals you'll remember (Fowler, Rocky, the rats, the humans), but for the most part they're just chickens. Julia Sawalha's Ginger basically looks like all the others. There's also next to nothing by which to remember her friends Babs and Bunty, unless you're looking out for them. Babs is the one who likes knitting and Bunty's the strong one. In the exercise scene, she's doing her press-ups with only one wing.
The film's biggest cock-up though is Mel Gibson. He's Rocky Rhodes and he's rubbish. Apparently he recorded all of his lines separately in America, while everyone else was recording their parts together in England. I can't say I'm surprised. It feels like that. Gibson should have been walking off with the film tucked under his arm. He's been given a glorious role, full of swagger, bullshit and charm, yet he's doing next to nothing with any of it and simply reading his lines. Admittedly he's basically okay and certainly nowhere near bad enough for normals to notice, but this is a flat performance where the film's crying out for star quality. He doesn't even milk any laughs!
Oh, and while I'm being critical, the rats' heckling isn't funny. I think it's because all these puns are being thrown out without any reactions shot in response, so they fall into the void of anti-comedy. In the rest of the film they're fun, though.
Overall, it's an enjoyable film. I like its pacing and its sense of humour, both of which could reasonably be called gentle. It was a slightly offbeat choice to do a parody of World War Two prison camp movies, but then again these are the same people who did Wallace and Gromit
's parodies of film noir, Hammer horror, etc. It fits. It's almost like a family-friendly version of The League of Gentlemen. Besides, that's not stopping them from also squeezing in Star Trek
gags. Personally I wouldn't expect this film to be anyone's favourite, but it's got plenty of personality and odd whimsy, while furthermore also being the first feature-length work of one of Britain's most important filmmakers. A new Aardman film's as big a deal as a new Pixar, as far as I'm concerned.
Is Mrs Tweedy Aardman's only human-looking woman, by the way?