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CINEMA: FOWL PLAY; GO2.

THERE'S probably nothing more tedious in the world of cinema than the process of stop-motion film-making.

Plasticine characters are shot, moved a fraction, then shot again. Scores of animators will spend a whole day making, maybe, 10 seconds of film.

Yet, as Tim Burton, with Nightmare before Christmas, and triple Oscar- winner Nick Park, with Creature Comforts and Wallace and Gromit, have shown, the end product can be spectacularly imaginative.

This week, Nick Park and Aardman founder Peter Lord make their feature film debut with Chicken Run (U), a big bucks Dreamwork production with vocal talent that includes Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson and Timothy Spall.

It's a far cry from the days when Last of the Summer Wine star Peter Sallis agreed to voice Wallace as a favour!

The idea for Chicken Run was apparently hatched out of a single sketch by Nick Park of a chicken digging under a wire with a spoon.

It's the story of a group of chickens faced with a race against time to fly the coop before the farmer's wife can turn them into pies.

Nick Park says: "I've always found chickens to be funny, but we've put them in a dramatic setting - living an appalling life, trapped and put upon by humans.

Producer and Aardman co-founder Dave Sproston says: "Nick's pitch was an escape movie with chickens, which had immediate appeal. It had great comic possibilities, with chickens devising escape plans, tunneling for freedom and such."

And like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, to which Chicken Run pays more than a passing tribute, one of the central characters is a maverick American.

Mel Gibson was chosen to provide the voice for Rocky, the self-styled "Lone Free Ranger", who catapaults into the coop, clashes with Ginger, the leader of the hens (Julia Sawalha), before the pair become romantically entangled.

Co-creator Peter Lord says: "Apart from being funny, Mel brought a kind of self-deprecating touch to the role that makes Rocky incredibly charming.

"I mean, an essential part of the plot is that this foreigner comes into the farm and sweeps everyone off their feet which, of course, Mel can do, but we also wanted that sort of self-aware, slightly ironic edge in his performance."

And it wasn't hard to persuade the Mad Max star to join the flock.

"I've been an admirer of theirs ever since they began making the Wallace and Gromit series," says Gibson. "And my kids love them too."
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Wood, Michael
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 30, 2000
Words:413
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