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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 06/22/2000,

Chicken Run

Babe takes on Schindler's List in Chicken Run, which probably isn't what fans of Peter Lord and Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame were hoping for. Through some process of dissolution, much of the charm, nuance, detail, and wit of the Aardman claymation shorts has gone astray amid the dozen or so speaking poultry parts, the mud-hued Stalag setting, and the cocky presence of Mel Gibson.

Things look bleak at Tweedy's Egg Farm, as the hens that don't lay end up on the chopping block of Mrs. Tweedy (a dour Miranda Richardson). Worse, mysterious mechanical noises in the barn suggest she might have more efficient butchery in mind. Leading the resistance behind the barbed wire is Ginger (Julia Sawalha), a plucky pullet who concocts ingenious but aborted escape attempts that make up some of the film's funniest moments. All seems lost until the arrival of Rocky (a bumptious Mel Gibson), an escaped circus rooster who promises to teach the hens how to fly. It's a secret lost on the film, which seldom emerges from the drear of half-baked ideas. A longer, scrambled version of A Close Shave, Chicken Run lacks that short's Keatonesque gag logic, not to mention the Keatonesque presence of the deadpan canine Gromit. Fowl by no means, this film is no feather in the cap, either.

-- Peter Keough