Chicken Run

Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park

The sweetest aspects of the movie are its abundant wry subtleties, like Babs knitting a noose when hope seems lost, or Rocky assessing Mac's impenetrable burr: "I swear she ain't usin' real words!" Also, as in the first few Muppet movies, the Babe films, or Terry Jones' The Wind in the Willows, Chicken Run does not err by forcing us to patronize patronizing "family" entertainment. (For instance, one of the rats zestfully informs us that eggs emerge from chickens' bums. Good to know.) Boasting incredibly articulate models and a sophisticated cast, the movie maintains itself as a jovial good time for smart people. The classic Warner Bros. cartoons were (and, in some cases, still are) brilliantly inspired, but these evolved creatures make Foghorn Leghorn sound like a Jim Crow mutation. When Brit Ginger and Yank Rocky strive to bridge their cultural gap (and go for a little beak), the appeal is universal.

And is it funny? Apparently so, because Simpsons creator Matt Groening sat in front of me and chortled with abandon, especially at Mrs. Tweedy's shameless billboard, which features a perversely calm chicken poking its head out of a pie. The movie also hits its highs when it echoes the humane giddiness that first welcomed another cartoonist, Gary Larson, onto the scene. When Mr. Tweedy lifts the roof off the coop to discover all the chickens wide-eyed, brandishing his tools, it sounds the same note as the casual cows of "The Far Side" warning one another of approaching cars. There's something infinitely satisfying about the concept that animals know much more than they let on, and the radical organizing of Chicken Run gleefully blurs the line between species. Vive la révolution!

Chicken Run's Ginger, voiced by Julia Sawalha
Chicken Run's Ginger, voiced by Julia Sawalha

Opens June 23.

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