Run, Chicken Run!

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It all might seem fanciful, but for Park, who was raised in rural Lancashire, Chicken Run comes close to a childhood memoir. "My family had chickens," he says, "just as pets. They used to come into the porch and eat the food, like a dog really. Or they'd come in the house and steal things. We couldn't bear to eat them; they were characters. Then when I was 16 or 17, I had a summer job at a chicken-packing factory; we had to fold up plucked chickens and pack them in cellophane trays. I also did a day working in a slaughterhouse--it was horrible. Some of what I saw there did get through to the pie machine in the film."

A team of 25 animators toiled to achieve two or three seconds of footage a day, as Lord and Park patrolled the tiny sets like the barons of Brobdingnag. The Aardman shop buzzed with the work of painters, press molders and a gent known as the mouth-and-beak-replacement coordinator.

And every few weeks, Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose DreamWorks paid for the film, flew in for moral support--"Support," he notes, "means underneath, lifting up, as opposed to on top, holding down"--and to debate the fine points. "Nick and I are English," Lord says. "We don't shout and scream. Whereas Jeffrey says what he thinks immediately and loudly. He wants everything to be argued." Lord finally figured out how to react to the American rooster: "We listen and nod and then go and do our own thing." One thing they did for Katzenberg: a TV spot for the fast-food tie-in with Burger King (you were expecting Kentucky Fried Chicken?). All the hens chorus, "Save the chickens! Eat more beef!"

In any format, live action or animation, good films are as scarce as--well, you know. Chicken Run is that rare film that advances the art while bathing the audience in smiles. All it took was three years of mind-bending labor to pullet together.

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