Brian Sibley,
Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie
(Harry N. Abrams, 2000)

Brian Sibley, journalist and well-known BBC radio personality, is responsible for writing this beautifully packaged, large-format, coffee-table book about the making of the eagerly-awaited first feature film from Aardman, England's innovative animation studio.

It's well nigh impossible to write about this project without succumbing to the lure of horrible puns, but fans of Aardman's popular Academy Award-winning Wallace and Gromit short films will cackle with glee as they fly to their nearest bookstore to shell out the not "poultry" sum of $35 to find their prize is not chicken feed and worth every penny! [Editor's note: Aaarrgh.]

Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie is illustrated with hundreds of photos (two-thirds of them in color), production stills, behind-the-scenes shots, portraits of all the major personalities involved, plus loads of conceptual sketches and storyboard drawings. There's plenty of text, too, so if there's anything you ever wanted to know about this film but were afraid to ask, the answer is probably here.

Chicken Run's directors, Nick Park and Peter Lord, the premier doyens of stop-motion animation of three-dimensional puppets, use this painstakingly precise, delicate and slow art-form to create memorable, eccentric characters, swift-paced and wildly inventive plots, and exceedingly amusing situations. Chicken Run, (think of The Great Escape from Stalag 17 with chickens), is set on the English farm of Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy and is about how a hen named Ginger leads an intrepid band of poultry in repeated escape attempts. Events reach crisis proportions, signaling imminent doom for the flock when the Tweedys acquire a machine that makes chicken pies. Just in the nick of time, an American rooster named Rocky arrives on the scene, a feisty ex-circus performer who seems to be able to fly and is persuaded by Ginger to teach this desirable skill to her fellow prisoners and lead a daring escape.

In addition to a summary of Chicken Run's plot, the book offers a brief history of Aardman Studios, an account of the evolution of the concept of Chicken Run, and a revealing look at the modus operandi of the directors and the highly skilled artists in their employ, showing how this extremely ambitious film is made (at the rate of 4 seconds per day per animator). An appendix includes the complete credits. Sibley, in clear, concise prose devoid of gushing or over-effusiveness, uses extensive interviews to recount how the movie evolved from an idea doodled in a sketchbook to a fully realized feature, revealing the secrets of the model-making shop, the set-design shop and the animation studios -- all profusely illustrated. The talented actors who supplied the voices also get their fair share of interviews too in this splendid volume which film buffs, chicken fans, animation enthusiasts and anyone curious about the creative process involved in producing a stop-motion animated movie will treasure. It's the next best thing to being there every day constructing and playing with model chickens for three years!

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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