The Great Cue: Chicken Run
by Cary Wong
One of the biggest thrills about going to a movie is when a particular
sequence and its accompanying music meld so perfectly together that you
cannot imagine one without the other. This rhapsodic high is then continued
when the CD soundtrack come out and a cue perfectly encapsulates this moment
and for a long time to come, I can't stop putting this cue on repeat on
my CD player, listening to it over and over again. This is "The Great
Cue." A cue so melodic and memorable, that you run the risk of making
it less great by just the sheer number of times you listen, analyze and
enjoy the cue. Some great cues in the past include the asteroid chase from
John Williams' The Empire Strikes Back, the main theme from Patrick
Doyle's Indochine, the piano-playing on the beach sequence from
Michael Nyman's The Piano, Jodie Foster chasing the alien signal
in Alan Silvestri's Contact, and the Montana horse riding sequence
from Thomas Newman's The Horse Whisperer. The last cue to do this
to me was "The Duel of the Fates" from last summer's The Phantom
Menace. This summer, it's a brilliant cue called "Building the
Crate" from what I believe is the best movie this summer: the inventive,
unique and just plain joyous Chicken Run.
Chicken Run is the brain child of Aardman Productions, the creators
of the Academy Award winning, animated Wallace and Gromit series, and while
we may be spoiled with the advanced looks of Pixar and other computer generated
animation, directors Peter Lord and Nick Park's genius is that there is
more going on in one frame of their stop action claymation-like creations
than most animated movies period. Add to that the British voices and colloquialisms
and you get a mix of down to earth sensibilities with an original and unique
Chicken Run's story is relatively simple. The chickens are kept
in a POW type camp where they must lay eggs to survive the wrath of Mr.
and Mrs. Twenty, the owners of an egg company. It's only when Mrs. Twenty
realizes there's no profit in eggs that the horror of the chicken's fate
becomes evident to us and to them. "I don't want to be a pie,"
is the classic line from the movie that encompasses the spirit of the movie
as well as the absurdity, and the chickens know they must escape. It's
great family fun, but there are winks galore for the adults in the audience,
including a Star Trek reference that had me rolling.
The score is by the composing team of John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams,
whose underrated score for the animated Antz was the perfect accompaniment
for the adventures of Z, the ant. Their style is more moment to moment
oriented (as opposed to motifs) and they use many untraditional instruments
in their scores. This did not prepare me for the fun they had with Chicken
Run, a cacophony of all types of musical styles, from the use of Asian
to Scottish melodies for no other reason except that it fits the action.
As I was watching the movie, I did notice how fun the music was, but then
came the sequence in the movie where the "Building the Crate"
cues appears, and it blew me away. I will not spoil anything here about
the what happens in this section except to say that it shows the true triumph
of a chicken's spirit.
The cue itself is a three and a half minute gem which may not work if
you haven't seen the sequence, however is so buoyant and catchy, I can
see it being used in trailers and commercials for years to come. I am not
that adept at speaking technically about music, but a little analysis of
the cue may give us some clue to its genius.
The first few seconds is a melancholy intro to what I am calling the
"Building Theme" which has not been heard in the score up until
that point. It is a short whiff of the theme, slowed down and deliberate.
Then comes a reprise of what can only be called a loving tribute to Elmer
Bernstein's The Great Escape, a melody that is used throughout the
movie whenever the chickens "hatch" a plan to escape. This segues
into a Danny Elfman-ish sequence with homage to his Pee Wee's Big Adventure
and then later on, an addition of a Edward Scissorhands reference
that helps to build anticipation of the "Building" theme.
And then it starts: the "Building" theme. It is a wholly unique,
but if I have to make a comparison, I would say it's akin to a Shostokovich
march, which is so catchy and rousing that any country could adopt it as
their national anthem and it would not be out of place. Just to remind
us not to take this theme too seriously, however, Powell and Gregson-Williams
ends the theme with a chorus of (and I am not kidding you) kazoos. The
theme builds again until we reach a break where it slows down, regroups
and we get our third and final presentation of the "Building"
theme with its rousing finish, which unfortunately ends back on a more
reflective sound. This works well in the sequence of the movie, but I wish
the musical cue on the CD could have finished in more of a flourish. Of
course, that would have been cheating, and I am more than content with
how it ends.
"Building the Crate." Remember that cue. What I recommend
is that you buy the CD (from RCA Victor), then watch the movie (don't let
the long lines deter you), and then after the movie, I swear, you will
want to run home (or to your car) and pop the CD in. The only drag is the
inclusion of two pop songs which work fine in the movie but is a little
jarring on the CD, but that easily fixed with a little programming.
"Chicken Run" and cue #16 will be in my CD player all summer.