Aardman, the British animation company, has sweetened up the summer movie season with "Chicken Run," its claymation feature now playing at area theaters.
With its G-rating, the animated film is suitable for audiences of all ages, despite an occasional dose of reality that strikes down a hen or two who are beheaded for failing to lay their eggs.
A takeoff on "The Great Escape" and other World War II prisoner of war movies, "Chicken Run" tells the story of the layerhens' desperate attempts to flee the stalag-like Tweedy farm in 1950s England.
Voices for the main characters are provided by Hollywood luminaries Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson and Julia Sawalha.
The film is created and directed by Aardman's Nick Park, the artist behind the Academy Award-winning Wallace and Gromit series, and Peter Lord, whose earlier work has been nominated for an Oscar.
As the movie opens, Ginger (Sawalha) is reprising Steve McQueen's role in "Great Escape" with her numerous but unsuccessful attempts to escape the Tweedy farm.
Time and again, she makes it over or under the fence, only to be captured and tossed into solitary confinement.
The others in the brood are nonchalant at first, preferring instead their peaceful lives as egg layers.
"It's a living," says one bird, and, "We haven't tried not trying to escape," says another, before it becomes apparent to all that the Tweedys (voiced by Richardson and Tony Haygarth) plan to turn the farm into a chicken pie rather than an egg factory, meaning everybody's days are numbered.
Ginger tries everything she knows to get the chickens out but escape appears hopeless until Rocky the Flying Chicken (Gibson) shows up unexpectedly as he attempts to leave a visiting circus.
He promises to teach the chickens how to fly over the fences surrounding the coops, but he conceals the fact that he is just a circus performer whose airborne experience arises only when he's shot out of a canon, rather than from flapping his wings.
In keeping with "The Great Escape," the chickens turn to other airborne methods to plan their departure, with wholly expected results.
The animation process -- claymation has been around almost since the beginning of cinema -- provides a whimsical, artistic look to the film, despite the exactness of every character's eyes.
But all in all, "Chicken Run" is an entertaining addition to family viewing options this summer.
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