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Harry & Moriarty Infiltrate Burger King and learn about Aardman's CHICKEN RUN!!!

H = Harry
M = Moriarty

H - Sometimes in the quest for knowledge there is a great task or series of tasks that must be handled. While on my last trip to Los Angeles, I bumped into a rather odd fellow at the Hotel I was staying that recognized me as being that Internet Movie Geek (TM). He told me that in two days time he would be attending one of those Product Tie-In Meetings where a movie studio tries to sell a corporation on acquiring the rights to produce.. Toys, Posters, Candy, etc.. based on their product. This particular Tie-In meeting would be with DreamWorks SKG and concerned next summer's CHICKEN RUN. The movie from Nick Park (creator of those amazing WALLACE & GROMIT shorts) and AARDMAN Animation.

M - I know that over here, WALLACE & GROMIT are basically a cult animation success. In England, though, they are everywhere, gigantic cultural figures, with more merchandising than you can shake a stick at. One of the things I love about the series is just how particularly English the sense of humor is. Park doesn't make films for any one audience, but he definitely makes them with one single sensibility... his.

H - I asked the man for the location and what company he was with and he laughed at me. "Harry, this is a Burger King meeting... Only top Burger King people can come. Regional Managers and their assistants." I told him that how I get in is none of his concern, asked nicely for the address and he gave it to me and left. I had two days to somehow get on the up and up and get in on this deal. This was Nick Park's CHICKEN RUN... I had to see this presentation which allegedly would screen the first 15 minutes of the film. So I called up Moriarty and laid the facts on the table.

M - I love animation, particularly stop-motion, and the idea of seeing early footage from this particular picture was exhilarating enough that I declared one full day free of torture for the henchmen. They are still smiling now from the respite.

Harry and I found a Burger King close to my house and put into effect the plan I was formulating even as it unfolded. We filled out applications and were hired to work as simple burger flippers. We were into the company, and we knew that we had less than 48 total hours to rise to Regional Managers. We worked quickly, ruthlessly, efficiently. I managed to cut costs in my store by 45% while increasing sales by 29% over the first four hours I was working. Harry created a more efficient waste system than ever before by sucking down leftovers. We used various rare poisons and voodoo charms to undermine our supervisors. Having started work at 10:20 in the morning, we rose to Regional managers by 4:17 in the afternoon, something we were told was a company record.

With that out of the way, and with our clothes fully permeated with that particular Burger King smell, we were told where the presentation was going to be. Harry and I picked out our clothes for the things, got a little sleep, then headed out. I was clad in a paper crown, the kind they used to head out, and disco threads like the '70s TV live-action mascot for Burger King. I even had my hair and beard done in that whole Barry Gibb thing. I was ready for some serious spying.

H - Now the interesting thing about Moriarty's above tale is how condensed it was. However, I feel we need to clarify some of the details. First up, the applications. While I filled them out, Moriarty dropped visine into two of the Burger King employee's drinks. Not many know this, but Visine will cause a fierce bout of diarrhea inside of twenty minutes... without fail. So that's how we were able to begin working so quickly. Meanwhile, I filled out the forms to make it look like Moriarty and I were brothers... albeit born 60 years apart, but brothers indeed. I was Harry Yourhired and he was Moriarty Yourhired. So when the manager began reading out loud we were both instantly hired. This is an amazing never fail trick I learned from this Homeless man in a soup line one day in the slums of New Orleans. I really have to recommend that soup kitchen in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, back at the Burger King... Moriarty and I were learning about the magic of the flame grill that we had to flip our meat upon. Now it was amazing... Moriarty's burgers would flip exactly 2 and 1/2 times before landing back on the grill... everytime. How did you do that?

M - Harry... if I share all my burger-flipping, restaurant managing secrets with our readers, then how am I going to keep my competitive edge? You see, now that I've realized just how evil running a fast food place can be, I plan to retain the franchise rights for my store. I've already staffed it with henchmen, and I figure there's no better way to spread evil than to continue to try and hawk WILD WILD WEST sunglasses.

I think you're just proud of the fact that you personally drove over 200 people clinically insane at the drive-through window by shouting, "That's what you think!" after every item ordered. Besides, I think everyone's more concerned with what happened after we rolled into the manager's meeting. When the doors to the conference room opened and you and I walked in, there was one of those uncomfortable room-clearing silences, almost like a party scene in a movie where the record scratches and everyone turns to look. In our case, though, we had the proper credentials, and when the lights went down on what turned out to be nearly 20 minutes of finished film, you and I had prime seats.

H - Prime seats... heh... That's funny. But I don't see you explaining how we got them 'prime' seats. You see folks, Moriarty here is having a funny... One of those inside... only I am going to laugh moments. You see. We had the proper laminated credentials with the glowy ultraviolet fingerprint on the back, but still they insisted that my name wasn't Harry Yourhired and then insisted that Moriarty was wanted by the authorities. So, Moriarty stared deep into the eyes of the lowly doorman and said, "Pula Farrell Peters Di Bonaventura." The man swallowed his own tongue, apparently Moriarty learned this at an evil genius seminar where a Dr Lecter told him how Miggs swallowed his own tongue.

We still had a problem though.. There was limited seating, as in...all the seats were already taken so I went out to the Burger King Semi that Moriarty and I now own and hauled in twenty cases of Prime Ground Chuck in cardboard boxes and formed two 'Prime Seats' as a new front row. The only weird part about the seats was that as the program went on, the boxes bled oozing a hema-flow of bovine liquid behind us. And that is when the show got started. But I'll let Moriarty start off...

M - We were warned that the scenes made up the first 15-20 minutes of the film, but that they weren't quite edited together. We'd see them in sequence, but there'd be Academy leader before each of the different scenes. I'd have sat through the Emergency Broadcast System test over and over if it meant seeing what Aardman's been up to, so this really didn't seem to be a big deal to me.

The titles for the film were still rough pencil drawings, storyboards more or less, but the opening sequence to the film was a stunner once it kicked in. Set at night, it's the first attempt of Ginger (voiced by the lovely Julia Salwalha) to escape from Tweedy's Farm. When we've heard in the past that this film is a nod to THE GREAT ESCAPE, I wasn't sure what that meant or to what extent the homage would be taken. The start of this film makes it clear right up front... Nick Park must LOVE that movie. As Ginger's tunneling plans go horribly awry and she is chased by two huge guard dogs, the other chickens all scatter, leaving her to take the brunt of the punishment. Like Steve McQueen, Ginger is thrown in the cooler. We see a montage of these escape attempts, each one more complicated than the one before, all of them ending in failure. There's a lot of the trademark Aardman ingenuity in this series of scenes. It's funny, but it's never absurd.

H - Well, I'm sorry my dear Professor but the entire project is absurd in the most gloriously absurd fashion I've ever seen in an absurdist creation. THESE ARE CHICKENS!!! C-H-I-C-K-E-N-S. And they are doing BRAVE things like trying to escape. Now there was a period of my life where every morning for 5 years I had to wake up and mosey on down to the chicken pen and gather the eggs. Not once in all those days did a Chicken even attempt to escape. Not once did they begin a tunneling attempt. As a matter of fact, the chickens were soooo stupid we put my baby sister, age 5 at the time, in charge of the chickens... and if a chicken can't out think my sister.... Well then it's a dumb bird indeed.

M - You know, of course, that she knows where you sleep, don’t you, Harry?

H - Yeah, but she doesn’t know where the keys are! The main thing that struck me right off about this was the gritty realistic feel of the compound. The barbwire looked menacing. The shadows were stark, and there was a decided lack of color, save for the chickens themselves. It looked depressing and bleak. Like a concentration camp. The other part was the Cinematic nature of the footage. You could tell that a ton of thought went into every shot. This was crafted in the extreme sense of the word. It's an aspect of Aardman animation that I have come to welcome with open arms. Youcould feel the slow burn of the absurdist plot. There are chickens.... they think. They want to be free chickens. It's beautiful. And then there is the Chicken house guard.

M - Don't get me wrong. I know there are very few farms out there with active Resistance movements, but within the world that Nick Park has created, there's nothing overtly silly about what they're trying to do. Like you, I was struck by just how grim the setting of the film is. I love the guy who is in charge of the chickens. Miranda Richardson is the woman who owns of Tweedy Farms, and the guy working under her to watch the chickens is starting to have suspicions. I love the moment where he tells her that something's up with the chickens. "I think they're organizing." If it weren't so funny, it might be spooky.

H - Absolutely. There's that point... and then he follows up with, "I believe the chickens are planning something." to which Miranda chides him for being silly. The character reminds me in a strange perverted way of Muldoon's lines about the raptors in JURASSIC PARK... But subtle in merely the tone in which he speaks... As if he doesn't want the chickens to hear his outloud thoughts.

M - Still, the film's plot seems to kick into high about ten minutes in, after we've seen just how determined Ginger is and how hopeless the odds are. That's when we're introduced to Rocky, the Flying Rooster.

H - It's strange, I didn't really get a feeling for Mel's character much at all this far in... Of course we don't know much about him from the footage we've seen. All we know is that Rocky, the Flying Rooster is an escape chicken from a touring Circus. Now.... I don't know about you Moriarty, but to me... The idea of a circus that is SOOOOOO LAME as to herald and have posters created advertising A FLYING ROOSTER! Well.... What a lame circus? I mean... that's right up there with a circus with "REALLY LONG NECKED GIRAFFES!!!!" Wow! And not only that... But this flying rooster is sooooo important to the Circus that the Circus Manager sets off to look for the flying rooster. Gosh... do you think the circus might go belly up if they don't get back their flying Rooster?

I'm not making fun of the movie. I love it. It's the absurd REALITY that Nick Park and the guys and gals at Aardman have created for us for years now. But this time we get to be further immersed into their skewed perception of the world. As I sat there and watched these characters interact on screen I was stunned. This goofy speechless smile plastered across my face as though Nick was moving my mouth frame for frame in time with the movie to a higher upward arc. While the funny stuff was coming pretty often and quickly with no duds at all... I was struck by how quickly I was completely involved into the plotline.

M - I liked the initial interaction between Rocky and Ginger. I like that he's not a noble-minded hero bird, and that he essentially has to be blackmailed into offering even the slightest bit of help to his fellow chickens. I like the fact that the first word we hear him bellow across that barnyard is "FREEDOM!" This is one of those films that is going to play better and richer the older you are. Kids are going to love the look and feel of it, but they won't get any of the more subtle adult work. Adults, on the other hand, are going to marvel at how deep the film is, and just how much detail has been layered in.

I recognized many of the voices in the film. As I said, Ginger is given life by Julia Salwalha, who I always found to be the human anchor of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS as Saffron. She's joined here by Jane Horrocks, whose vocal chords should be declared a national treasure after her sterling work in last year's deeply flawed LITTLE VOICE.

Mainly, though, I was struck by the fact that Aardman doesn't seem to have traded one bit of their identity for the backing of a major Hollywood studio. Yes, they're working with DreamWorks. I've heard that Jeffrey Katzenberg treats these guys like movie stars when he visits them, though. He believes in letting them do their work the way they're used to doing it, and the result is going to be a deeply individual studio offering. This is how DreamWorks stands to benefit most... by giving artists room to create genuine art.

H - Well, I don't know about this blowing of smoke up Katzenberg's trousers, but it does seem like he has the right trousers for this gig. There was not an iota of Americanism in this work. It felt completely AARDMAN. As for the voices...Who cares who provides who with who's voice. To me... them bloody chickens were talking. Ginger sounded like Ginger and Rocky sounded like Rocky the Flying Rooster. To bloody hell with the reality of things. This is a perfectly created universe where things are... strange. Be it a weird old cranky grandfather rooster that hates the bloody Yanks.... Wonderful. Or the plethora of horny chickens that want to shag the fowl feathered Rocky. This all works. The main thing I was struck with from the overall presentation was that DreamWorks isn't going to pull a Warners and release a classic film with all the sound and fury of a tree falling in a forest with nobody around to hear it. They seem to really believe in this film, and their enthusiasm was contagious. I know if I were a Burger King regional manager, I'd sign onto this faster than a two minute egg.

M - I haven't blown smoke up Katzenberg's trousers since that Disney intern gig in the late '80s, Harry, so bite your tongue. I guess I'm responding to the fact that this seems to be an individual effort, but still seems to be getting the full support of the studio. After the heartbreak of IRON GIANT, this is a promising development.

I'm going to close out my report on this advanced presentation of the film by saying that all we saw was 20 minutes, but we can already discuss subtext and cinematic approach and stylistic decisions. This is rich work, and it bodes well for the final result we'll see onscreen next summer. I'm not even sure I want to know anymore until another opportunity to see footage on the big screen, where it belongs, presents itself. I guarantee this will appeal to all you animation nuts out there as much as it did to us, and I'm predicting this as one of the summer's biggest hits. "Feathers will fly," indeed.

Anyway... I've got to go get the henchmen started on tomorrow morning's croissanwich-and-broken-glass combo breakfasts. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

H- Well just leave it to an evil genius to bite my head off. He’s just jealous cause I made more hamburgers than he did. Well, It’s been left to me to wrap this up. Like John Lasseter with TOY STORY, like Henry Selick with THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and Brad Bird with THE IRON GIANT we are set for the emergence of another genius in the realm of theatrical feature animation. When June 23rd, 2000 comes I know exactly were my ass will be. It’ll be planted on my fourth row center seat. This movie is going to be incredible. Also.... If Dreamworks SKG was smart they’d sign Aardman and crew up just as Disney has done with PIXAR. And they’d do it before CHICKEN RUN was released because... frankly... afterwards... People will be falling over each other attempting to do their next film.

Their work is painstakingly slow and arduous, but the ends definitely justify the means. You simply can not get a movie to look like this in any other fashion. It’s magic at 24 frames per second. So stock them animators with as much cheese and wine and sweaters as they require... but keep them animating. The world needs more joys like the work I’ve seen here in CHICKEN RUN.

Lastly... I leave you with this box of eggs. Allegedly I will be getting more eggs, one a month over the course of the next 11 months..... It is worth the wait.

Harry Out

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