Chicken Run (2000)

Babs: Morning, Ginger. Back from holiday?

Ginger: I wasn’t on holiday, Babs. I was in solitary confinement.

Babs: Oh. It’s nice to get a bit of time to yourself, isn’t it?

 

The summer of 2000 for movies I remember extremely well. This was probably because at the time, I was in the process of moving with my family from Arizona to New Jersey. I was 15 at the time, and obviously not too pleased about the whole ordeal. That summer we spent living with my aunt in a strange city that was not ours (Phoenix…), with no friends but my cousins and my little sister. What did we do for fun? We seriously went to see every movie under the sun. Pretty much every week or every other week, we were at the movie theater. This was one of the many we saw. So was Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Gone in 60 Seconds, and many numerous others. Like many of the movies I saw that summer, I had no idea what this movie was about. We just saw it because it was something to do. 

 At the time, I was a bit familiar with Wallace & Gromit. I had at least heard of the animation team and the idea of the british stop motion clay figures, even though I hadn’t seen any of it. I remember after seeing this movie being pleasantly surprised. It was better than I thought it would have been, and I quickly decided that it wasn’t simply “kids stuff.” It was quirky, fun, original, and funny. So how does it rank now that I’m an adult? Let’s find out.

 I do want to start by saying that unlike Coraline, this movie doesn’t try to hide that it’s subjects are made of clay. In fact, it embraces the medium and uses it to the design of the characters to make them more unique. You can see the cuts of the clay and the stitches on the hats or bandanas or necklaces. I actually find it hilarious that every single chicken in this movie has something around their neck. It’s to hide the seam, I’m guessing.

 This movie also has one of the best opening sequences in an animated movie. We see a chicken (our protagonist, Ginger) attempting to break out of the chicken yard. She gets caught, and the farmer, Mr. Tweedy, proclaims “No chicken breaks out of Mr. Tweedy’s farm!” Then during the rest of the opening credits, we go through all sorts of ridiculous plans and attempts by not only Ginger, but the rest of her chicken friends, to escape. All the while she is the only one that gets caught and gets thrown into the dumpster, or as she puts it, “solitary confinement.”

 I love this opening because it tells you what the plot is going to be, it tells you who the villains are, and what the protagonist is like. She’s stubborn. She’s got one thing on her mind and that is to escape. The other chickens would like it to, but they’re not as out for it as Ginger. She’s thrown again and again into that dumpster and it doesn’t phase her. That’s Ginger for you. And she’s a great character. She’s not just your run of the mill protagonist. She’s strong, plucky, and an absolute joy to watch (she’s honestly the main reason I like this movie as much as I do).

 So we know what the plot is: chickens try to escape from a chicken farm. But it gets a little more complicated when Mrs. Tweedy decides the egg business is less than profitable and decides to buy a pit-making machine, intent on turning all the chickens into pot pies. On the chicken yard side of things, the sudden appearance of a flying rooster that crash lands into the yard signifies to Ginger that he (Rocky) can teach them how to fly. Obviously chickens can’t, but she saw him, so he, of course goes along with it so that Ginger doesn’t turn him in, as he’s on the run from the circus. We have the liar revealed plot, where everyone finds out almost too late that Rocky was a liar and he can’t fly (he got fired out of a canon). He disappears, not wanting to face the fate he has given these chickens. Things at the end get complicated, they build a giant airplane, Rocky comes back to rescue Ginger, and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s chicken run.

 It’s a cute plot. It’s an interesting thing to compare the Chicken yard to an internment camp or a prison, but it works extremely well. I do have to say I wonder what this movie would have been like if they hadn’t had Rocky come in, because while his character is ok, it seems like something that’s been done a million times before. There’s nothing new that this story and his character adds to it.

 I want to talk about Rocky for a second. He’s voiced by Mel Gibson, who I really don’t like. I never have. I don’t know what it is, but his voice just – ugh – it bugs me. That being said, he’s really good at playing the pompous, egotistical, suave guy that doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I know the idea in this movie is for him to change and realize that he does care and in the end he does come back to help, but his voice just reflective of that change. He still talks like he’s pompous and over the top when his character isn’t supposed to be like that anymore. I’m going to blame Mel Gibson. It might be irrational, but he really is one actor I can’t stand. 

 The villains are really interesting. Mrs. Tweedy is hands over your eyes scary at times, and her bumbling husband isn’t necessarily evil, but he goes along with everything she does even though it may not be the right thing. One thing that has ALWAYS bugged me about her idea to turn the chickens into pies is that she’s acting like this is going to be a good way to keep their family on tops for years and years. Did she ever think of what happens once all the chickens are gone? I mean, 3 dozen chickens will make 3 dozen pies, and then what? Buy more chickens to make more pies? I never got around her thought process. But that doesn’t matter. She’s insane and makes for a fun villain, especially at the end.

 There are a lot of other supporting characters, because you have this yard full of chickens. Of course many we never know, but we do get to know a few, and they are memorable. Bunty is the pessimistic one, Babs is extremely dumb and loves to knit (when they think they are doomed she knits a noose – oh the amazing morbid humor!), Mac is the smart scottish one (who wears a MacLeod tartan scarf!! – I went to the College of Wooster which has the fighting Scot as its mascot and it wears that tartan – yellow, red, and black). We also get to know the only other male rooster in the bunch, Fowler, who is an old cranky man who only talks about his good old days back in the RAF (that’s Royal Air Force to anyone here state side). There’s also two rats that act as liasons, getting Ginger whatever she needs to build her crazy contraptions. They’re funny, but a bit thick. 

 So the characters are great and memorable. The plot is ok. What this movie really gets right is the humor. It’s so good you have to watch it a few times to pick up on everything. A lot of it is very subtle, and a lot of it is in the dialogue. I LOVE good dialog. It’s why The Iron Giant was so memorable. These jokes are great because of the delivery. There’s also many sight gags, and the rats are good at pointing out the horrible chicken puns that you just have to laugh at. For adults, there’s great humor that you have to pay close attention to catch, and for kids there’s great visual and out in front humor.

 It also has one of the best closing sequences for a movie: the two rats are talking about how to get rich, and one suggests they get a chicken. The other suggests they get an egg. You can see where this is going. The movie literally blacks out with the two of them discussing which came first. It’s clever.

 Chicken Run (2000) is definitely worth a watch. I liked it when I was 15, and it’s still incredibly entertaining to this day, if not more so. I still remember the first time I saw it after going to my college. I literally flipped out when I saw Mac wearing the MacLeod tartan. I laughed so much harder at things I never remembered when I was a teenager. It’s harmless and fun for kids, enjoyable for adults. Definitely check it out if you need something to watch on family movie night. It might even be on netflix.(edit: ok, it’s not. At one point it was on watch instant. But still, it’s worth a watch!!)

 I give Chicken Run (2000) a 3.9 out of 5. 

 Next up: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002).**

 ** Disclaimer: if you’ve noticed I’m going in Chronological order in Dreamworks. YES, I know Shrek is technically next, but seeing how my husband insanely orders our DVDs, the Shrek movies are on a different shelf along with triologies and series. I will do those three then (he didn’t touch my Pixar sequels though. Hahahah! I win!!)

 

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The Prince of Egypt (1998)

“Many nights we’ve prayed, with no proof anyone could hear. In our hearts a hopeful song we barely understood. Now we are not afraid, although we know there’s much to fear. We were moving mountains, long before we knew we could…”

 

 I am going to start this review by saying one thing: I am NOT religious. I’m not going to turn this into a debate about religion, but I feel I have to get that out of the way, because given what this movie is, it’s sort of a topic that is hard to avoid. I feel that my readers should know what kind of mindset I’m in when I watch it and my background.

 I was brought up Methodist and come from a “spiritual” family (at least that’s how my mom likes to be thought of). My mother-in-law is a minister and I love her to death, and will gladly go to her sermons and listen to what she has to say. It’s just that when you get down to it, I believe the whole idea of religion and going to church, to say it nicely, is “flawed.” That being said, I was a religious studies minor in college, and find the whole idea of religion and spiritualism extremely fascinating from an academic perspective. Anyone who knows me knows I’m extremely open to any and all beliefs, and if anything I am extremely curious about stories and people’s beliefs. In fact my discomfort when I’m in churches comes not from the fact that I can’t believe other people are praying/singing/giving thanks to a God I don’t believe exists, but instead a respect thing. It’s weird, but I don’t want to disrespect anyone by “pretending” to pray if it’s not what I believe in. 

 Anyway, I am getting way off topic. The reason I thought I should start my review like this is because of the subject matter of this movie, and my opinion about it. The Prince of Egypt is the book of Exodus from the Bible. It’s the story of Moses and the freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. It can’t help but be spiritual and religious, because it literally comes from the source.

 So what do I think of this movie? ……. I freaking love it. When I first saw this movie in 1998, I was extremely against church. Church was the way that my parents were still controlling me, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I was trying to figure myself out and what I believed in, and I didn’t want other people’s beliefs thrust upon me. I don’t know what would have caused me to see this movie, which at the time was everything I was trying to distance myself from. But I saw it. And I loved it. It is easily one of my favorite animated movies if not one of my favorite straight up movies. Why? Let me explain.

 The Bible is, essentially, a collection of stories. It’s an anthology that was put together by someone, who chose which books to put in, and which to leave out. Like all other stories, they hope to convey a message, emotion, memorable characters, etc. Adaptations of stories, whether they be from books, the bible, comics, etc, unfortunately, tend to lose some of these things when they are transferred to the big screen. This movie does not. Not at all. You can tell that the people who were involved in this movie were interested not in money, but in the story, the people, and the message that this story of Exodus portrays. They treated it with the utmost respect while making it easily accessible for children and adults. 

 In case anyone is unfamiliar with the story of Exodus and Moses, here’s a quick recap (at least according to the movie). It’s Egypt, and the Hebrews are enslaved under the Pharaoh. He has just ordered his soldiers to slaughter any babies in the hebrew village (it’s explained later it’s to keep the numbers down). Moses’ mother and her children run to the edge of the river, and to save her baby son puts him in a basket and sends him down the river. The baby, Moses, floats into the palace and is adopted by Pharaoh and his family.

 We then cut to a number of years later, where Moses is now a young man, and we get to see his interactions with his brother, Rameses, and his family. Although a Prince of Egypt, Moses does seem to have a bit more reservations about how people are treated. Running after a woman who he helped escape the palace that was given as a “gift” to him, he runs into Miriam and Aaron, his siblings. His sister begins spouting happiness that he has come to set them free, and he, obviously, freaks out. Now knowing the truth, he tries to deal with it, but after accidentally killing a man, he flees, not know who or what type of person he really is.

 Out in the desert he runs into the woman he helped escape, Tzipporah, and her family, including her father, who is a high priest. Through the magic of song montage, we see him grow, learn, and marry Tzipporah. It is when he is older that he finds a cave with a strange burning bush in it, and God speaks to him, telling him he needs to return to Egypt and free his people from the repression of Pharaoh. So Moses and Tzipporah return to Egypt and he confronts his brother Rameses, now Pharaoh, and is met, obviously, with a No. After a few tries, God finally unleashes a number of plagues across the land, including famine, locusts, darkness, etc (yay another song montage). The last of which is a plague to kill the first born of every family unless the doorway is marked with lamb’s blood (this is where Passover originated from). Rameses, having lost his son, is extremely distraught, and tells Moses he and his people can go.

 The hebrews get to the red sea, and suddenly Rameses has a change of heart and goes after them. Moses parts the red sea, the egyptians get flooded, and the Hebrews are left to wander the desert for 100 years (although we end with “yay! We’re free!”).

 What this movie does SO WELL is the emotion. The center of this movie really does focus on the relationship between Moses and his brother Rameses. You get that they are close and they care about each other. That’s what makes it so heartbreaking when Moses returns and suddenly the two brothers don’t see eye to eye. Suddenly, they don’t understand each other any more. Moses begs and pleads with his brother to let the hebrews go, partially because it’s what he was chosen to do, but also partially because he knows what will happen if Rameses says no. He’s there to offer comfort when his son dies, and he is genuinely sad about what happened and what has happened to his brother. 

 This is what makes Moses in this story so incredibly interesting. Does he believe his people should be free? Yes. Does he believe what the pharaoh and the egyptians are doing is wrong? Yes. We get these things through the way he reacts when he sees someone beaten, or through conversations, or looks. But he is chosen to be this incredible leader against his brother. Sometimes, you really get the feeling that he doesn’t want to do this; he doesn’t want to be this incredible leader and a tool for God to use. He doesn’t want to hurt his brother. But that doesn’t matter; it’s what he was chosen to do. He does it because he knows it’s right, not because it’s easy.

 Along with the emotional connection you feel for Moses and his brother Rameses, you also have these completely overwhelmingly beautiful emotional scenes. I don’t know what it is about some of them: if it’s the animation, the words, the music, or all of them, but some places I just feel like you have to tear up. Two that come to mind are the scene with the burning bush, and the parting of the red sea. Obviously two incredibly important, symbolic scenes. And this movie Nailed them. Again, I’m NOT religious, but the burning bush scene ALWAYS gives me chills. The flame is beautiful. The way it’s not rushed is beautiful. The words (taken straight out of Exodus btw) are, of course, beautiful. It’s not something I can really explain. Then the parting of the red sea is gorgeous. It’s 1998, so CGI was limited, but it’s actually really well done in this movie. There’s a shot after the water is parted that shows the scale of it, and, well… wow. Hard to describe.

 One more mention about emotional depth of this movie, because I feel to not mention it would be a crime. The music. I’m talking about both the songs and the instrumental score, because both are insanely perfect. The songs aren’t “Disney-fied.” they’re not all peppy and happy. This would have been really wrong. Instead, they’re gritty and real. Some of them have odd tempos or syncopation. But they are perfect. They convey what they need to (heck, I even said 2 of them are used for montages). While all are good (except playing with the big boys – this is seriously the weirdest song…), I have my favorites. The song about the plagues is brilliant. The one in the beginning is beautiful and tells a story and sets the scene well. The one I have to talk about, however, is “When you believe.” The Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey version was on the radio all the time in 1998, and with good reason. This song is about hope, and is sung when the Hebrews are leaving Egypt. The animation they put with it is great. The little girl helping the older woman. The two egyptian guards who just say screw it and leave with them. The little girl leading the giant oxen. It makes me cry EVERY TIME. They are so happy.

 Ok, enough about emotion. The characters are… good… I guess. We get to know Moses and Rameses really well, but to be honest we don’t get to know the supporting characters greatly, except maybe Miriam. His other brother Aaron (voiced by Jeff… uh… Gold… uh… bloom) is actually non-recognizable in his voice, believe it or not. But we don’t see much of him. We have two hands to the Pharaoh named Hotep and Hoy (voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short) who honestly were thrown in to be….. comedic relief….? I honestly don’t know, because with those voices, they should have been, but they’re not funny. This movie doesn’t need those characters. They are very out of place in the few scenes they get. Luckily they aren’t used much. Moses’ wife Tzipporah is ok, but again, no depth. I would get more upset about this, but the focus really is on Moses and Rameses, so I’m willing to overlook it.

 Let’s talk about Rameses for a second. Part of the reason this character works so well as a villain is because you can see where he’s coming from. You know him before he’s a villain. He’s lovable, but put under a ton of pressure to be better than his father. He is the morning and evening star; the one with all the responsibility. As a young man, we see him struggling with this. When Moses returns, he is happy beyond all belief to have his brother back in his life until he learns why he has returned. There’s disillusionment, anger and betrayal. This turns into utter hatred once his son is killed by the plague, and from here, he just grows almost insane. But again, you sort of understand. His only son just died from something inexplicable and the only person you can put any sort of blame on is your estranged brother who showed up after years claiming to have magic from a God you don’t believe in. I’d be upset too. Maybe not “I’m going to try and kill everyone” mad, but I’d be mad.

 You don’t have to be familiar with this story to understand it. You don’t have to be one of the religions that holds it in its doctrine to enjoy it. In fact, I think that this is a movie everyone should see. Not because it talks about God, but because it really is an amazing movie. In the end, the bible is stories; they form the basis of a religion for millions of people, but they are still stories. Regardless of who you are or what you believe in, these stories are still stories that are worth reading. They can teach you things, like Aesop and his fables. They can teach you about hope, or love, or treating people the way they ought to be treated. And those are lessons that EVERYONE should learn.

 I very much recommend The Prince of Egypt (1998) to everyone. If you have really young children just be aware that this is a very gritty, tell-it-like-it-is movie. I like to think that this movie really opened up my eyes to not see religion as incredibly oppressing and for what it really can be. It made me less judgmental. See it. Try to view it completely non-partisan. If you’re not moved, well, I don’t know what.

 I give The Prince of Egypt (1998) a 4.95 out of 5. It’s as close to perfect as I can get, but man… Hotep and Hoy just seem so out of left field it kills me…

 Up Next: Chicken Run (2000)

Antz (1998)

Bala: I’ve been kidnapped by the village idiot.

Z: Who’s the bigger idiot? The idiot, or the idiot who gets kidnapped by the idiot?

 

When I watch movies for my blog, I write notes. They’re mostly my thoughts, random anecdotes, things that crack me up, things that confuse me, things I never caught before, etc. I’m trying really hard to watch these movies in a whole new light, having actually decide to rip them to shreds and review them. Sometimes I can get past nostalgia and see the movie for however good (or bad) it is. Sometimes I can’t. And I must say, Antz is one of those that I found very surprising. I’ll tell you why.

 When I was a kid, Antz was…. Ok. I was 13 when it came out, and I really didn’t “get” this movie. I definitely saw it. It was enjoyable, but in a year when this was being compared to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, I much rather would have watched Pixar. In my opinion then, as well as now, these two movies should NEVER be compared. They are so different that it’s almost sad they came out in the same year. A Bug’s Life is more your typical family/kids movie. Antz is so much more. It’s more adult. It transcends. It’s edgy. It gave you an idea about what kind of different animation company this Dreamworks was going to be. 

 So what’s it about? In an ant colony, an ant named Z is having a hard time fitting in with society (seriously, he has an identity crisis, which I think is hilarious). He’s sick of being a worker and dreams of doing something with his life other than moving dirt. Meanwhile, the princess Bala does her typical Jasmin thing – she leaves the palace and mingles with the commoners, upset in her place and the fact she has to marry the general. They meet, Z impresses her. Z then switches places with his friend, weaver, to have the possiblity of seeing Bala again. Well, he ends up going to war. He returns, the only survivor, and word gets out he’s just a worker. He escapes and inadvertantly kidnaps the princess, who is not so impressed with him any longer.

 She complains and tells him to take her back, but he’s not having any of it. Instead, he wants to go to Insectopia. She reluctantly follows, only to end up seeing Z for the nice guy he is. However the general and the rest of the ants in the nest still believe she was kidnapped, and soon she is taken and returned to the nest.

 Ahh yes, there is also an evil plot by the general to seal off most of the ants in their newly constructed “mega-tunnel” and have them drown so that he and Bala can start a new colony. Obviously Z and Bala find out about this and they then have to save the colony that’s trapped in the Mega-tunnel. Oh, and Z starts a revolution. There’s actually a lot more going on here than it seems like.

 Three times in my notes I had written “This movie is large/big.” that’s what I mean. There is SO MUCH going on in this movie that it’s hard to see it all in a first time viewing. I mean, it’s easy to follow the storylines, but this movie is so much more than just a movie about a bunch of ants, utopia, being yourself, etc. The movie opens with an ant having an existential crisis for goodness sake! I never read into it as a kid. Maybe I didn’t see it because I didn’t have the life experience. But as an adult, I feel I know exactly what Z is feeling. Knowing you’re so much more but you’re just… stuck. 

 This movie is about finding your place in the big world. It’s about realizing that even the little guy has a reason for being. It’s about trying to stand out and be yourself even when the world isn’t letting you. I think possibly my favorite part about this movie is the fact that Z doesn’t really want to be a pillar of change. HE just wants to find out what makes him happy. But yet, he becomes a name that every ant knows. He becomes the face of a revolution that happens when he’s not even there. I almost like this kind of hero the best: the hero who doesn’t know that he’s a hero. It’s refreshing.

 Alright, so what about the characters. Woody Allen is amazing as Z. Honestly, he’s pretty much playing himself, and he’s good at it. He’s got that self deprecating sense of humor, that bit of depression, but is actually an enjoyable character because he is just so darn interesting compared to the rest of the ants. Princess Bala is… ok. She’s very cut and dry. Like I said, she’s like Jasmin, or any other princess who doesn’t want the responsibility and falls in love with the commoner. It’s been done. She doesn’t really have anything that interesting that makes her stand out, which is kinda sad, because to go along with Z, you almost want that.

 Z’s friends Weaver and Azteca are interesting I guess. Weaver is a big soldier ant, and Azteca is a worker girl who falls in love with him. It’s their fault Z is a big face of a revolution, so I guess they serve their purpose. Weaver’s much more entertaining than Azteca, but both are nothing really to write home about.

 The Queen is kinda boring but regal, and a lot of the small supporting characters are actually entertaining, from the very posh upclass yellow jackets to the stoner bugs at Insectopia. I will mention another soldier ant named Barbados, who is with Z when they go to war with the termites. He’s voiced by Danny Glover, and dies in the battle, but man, I would have loved to see more of his character. I don’t know why, but he always reminds me of Bubba from Forrest Gump. Which is hilarious because he’s literally NOTHING like that character. I don’t know why I make that connection, but I do. But yeah, he was a smart ant, funny. I would have liked to see more of him.

 The fact I can’t even remember the General’s name should tell you something about what I think of this villain. Some good points I guess are that is he very smart and very cunning, but he’s just… boring. Every time he opens his mouth I want to punch him and tell him to say something more interesting. Then there’s his right hand-ant, Cutter. It’s Christopher walken trying to play a bad guy. Yeah. You seriously cannot look at that ant and take him seriously, because it’s Christopher freaking Walken. 

 The jokes that this movie gets right they get really right. They did a really good job taking the world and showing you how an ant would see it. The feet from the person, the magnifying glass, the gum, the picnic, and of course, insectopia. It’s a garbage can. But it’s awesome.

 Antz is a really good romp, despite a few characters that you just can’t connect with. They’re interesting enough to keep your attention, and you really do connect with Z. You want to know what happens to him and you care about how he feels. The others? Not so much. This movie is much bigger than it seems. It’s deep. But at the same time, it’s fun for kids. (warning: they do swear in this movie!). At the time it came out, dreamworks was a small motion picture company, and this showed us what was going to come. And, for the most part, it was good.

 I give Antz (1998) a 3.75 out of 5.

 Next up: The Prince of Egypt (1998)