Ginger the hen (Sawalha) is determined to escape from the battery farm where she and her fellow chickens live. She's held back by her meek comrades - until Rocky (Gibson), a wisecracking rooster, shows up and inspires them to new heights. But can they escape before the deadly Chicken Pie Machine gets up and running?
Don't anticipate any promotional tie-ins with KFC for an animated comedy in which chickens, forced to lay eggs or get the chop, plot to escape a farm where they are penned in behind barbed wire in conditions that definitely flout the Geneva Convention. Yes, it's a remarkably well-sustained spin on the popular P.O.W. camp movie, with a touch of The Squawkshank Redemptions about it, too.
With three Oscars for Park's shorts and a barrow load of awards between them, Lord, Park and the team at Bristol's Aardman can claim world supremacy in stop-motion clay animation. Hollywood money has enabled them to create a first full-length feature that is big and ambitious. That it is also very funny and imaginative owes more to love than finance, however.
The film is a tribute to the inspired lunacy that drives people to wave aside CGI, doggedly crafting models and moving them painstakingly through 24 poses for each second of film. Chicken Run has 563 feathered and costumed puppets, tons of plasticine, and meticulously constructed sets to set off the kind of ingenious details, endearing characters and riotous gags that made Wallace and Gromit international stars.
It also has a smart mix of nostalgia, sweetness and flip modernity in design and dialogue, playing with time-honoured types - a pair of rats to act as spies and scroungers, an old rooster named Fowler who constantly drones on about his days in the RAF and tut-tuts, "Cock-a-doodle-do-what-what" - situations and plotting. Puns also abound: Rocky is the self-styled Lone Free Ranger, Fowler claims the rank of Wing Commander.
Even the most hardened audience will erupt into cheers and applause for a dandy set piece inside the pie making machine - a sequence that recalls Indiana Jones fleeing the booby-trapped treasure chamber -and the hilariously spiffy climax. You can't help but love the delicious absurdity and dedication in a film that boasts a "mouth and beak replacement co-ordinator" among the crew credits. In the same spirit that has enshrined Babe as the Citizen Kane of talking pig movies, Chicken Run is definitely the Casablanca of chick flicks.
Chicken Run not only proves that Aardman animation can deliver a full-length feature with panache; it offers genuinely superb entertainment as well.