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Rooster Mel's Cockahoop; CHICKEN RUN.

MEL GIBSON didn't really have any option when he was asked to provide the voice of a rooster for his latest film.

"You've got to do it," his kids commanded.

The role of Rocky, a Rhode Island Red rooster, is in Chicken Run, the first full-length feature from the Wallace And Gromit team. And Mel's kids are huge fans of the Oscar-winning pair.

Braveheart Gibson, 43, joins the vocal talents of Julia Sawalha, Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall and Scots actress Lynn Ferguson in telling the story of chickens trying to escape from a farm.

Directors Nick Park and Peter Lord, kings of the animated short film, had met Gibson a year before they started work on the feature-length story by writer Karey Kirkpatrick.

"We knew Mel's kids were fans because we met him when we were in Los Angeles for the Oscars about a year before we did the deal for Chicken Run," says Peter Lord. The 85-minute comedy about a coop of chickens with broad Yorkshire accents took the small film company four years and pounds 22million to make.

It uses 400 plastic and rubber figures led by five stars called Rocky, Ginger, Bunty, Babs and Fowler.

DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg's studio which financed the film, is so sure of success and so determined to beat its rival, Disney, that it plans to spend pounds 25 million on marketing.

Retaining Yorkshire accents for all the chicken characters except Rocky was a gamble by DreamWorks. It paid off on Wednesday when Chicken Run opened in 3000 cinemas across the US, putting it up there with Notting Hill.

And the Los Angeles Times ran American translations for such words as chuffed, codswallop and summat.

Peter and Nick insist that they didn't go after Mel simply to get his name on the credits. "It was pure personal vanity because it would be nice to work with a big Hollywood star," says Peter.

Nick adds: "We had seen Mel in the comedy western Maverick and the character of Rocky was very similar. We took a line from Maverick and animated it and it worked perfectly."

Mel was in America filming The Patriot when Chicken Run was being hatched, says Nick Park.

"He did it on a digital phone with us on headphones here in Britain. That made it very difficult to direct him, but he was very patient about the whole thing."

Nick added that it was one of Mel Gibson's earlier comedies that had convinced him that he would be perfect for Chicken Run.

Nick admits that he has found it difficult to get accustomed to the fact that their work has been honoured with Oscars.

"One day you have plasticine under your nails, the next you are talking with Sharon Stone.

"I just wish they'd hold the Oscars on a day when you're not so nervous. I didn't know whether my legs would carry me up on to the stage," he says.

Oscar success brought offers from Disney, but Peter and Nick signed instead with DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg's studio.

Peter says: "If we'd gone to Disney and said we did not want any songs in Chicken Run then they would have laughed us out the place."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 25, 2000
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