Chicken Run – as metaphor for the Jewish
Chicken Little, "the sky is falling. I must go tell the king." So
Chicken Little ran and ran. – From The Sky Is Falling, a Bulrovian fairy tale.
Anyone remotely familiar with the
classic World War II movie Stalag 17 (or its much watered down TV
sit-com, Hogan’s Heroes) will love DreamWorks’ Chicken Run.
This is partly because Chicken Run
is so full of allusions and references to Stalag 17 that you could
easily picture Steve McQueen dressed up in a chicken suit to perform the lead
role as a hen, but also because the tale also continues the Spielberg/Lucas
saga of the 20th Century persecuted Jews (as depicted in films like 1978 Star
Wars and other joint efforts).
Even the structure of Chicken Run
resembles the 1953 Stalag 17 in that you have a series of persistent but
failed attempts at escape -- almost humorous in their regularity and their
punishment (even to the point of having the Steve McQueen hen bouncing a ball
against the inside of the box to relieve the boredom.) Then at some point later
in these films, escape becomes desperate when the incompetent persecutor is
replaced by someone meaner and more deadly, and brings on a more diabolical
scheme that requires the inmates to flee or die.
In Stalag 17,
the change comes when the Gestapo – that particularly vicious branch of the
German secret police (something like a cross between the CIA and FBI but with a
tendency to torture people in places other than Guantanamo Bay) takes over the
prisoner of war camp promising to murder and torture in violation of all
treaties for fair treatment of prisoners (something we Americans would never,
ever do) and forces the prisoners to act together for common survival.
In Chicken Run – which has
no shortage of Nazi references – the situation changes when the female owner of
the farm becomes the lead villain decides that the egg business isn’t
profitable enough (killing chickens only when they fail to produce) and decides
to move into the chicken pie business which involves mass slaughter in a
massive chicken pie-making machine.
This may indeed reflect a change in
Nazi philosophy at some point during World War II when instead of working the
Jews to death the Nazis decided to execute them as part of a final solution –
among the many atrocities committed in the concentration camps.
Having already gone far out on the
limb of speculation in this regard, let’s take this one step farther and say
you can even envision the chicken’s hope in the American flying rooster as the
hope the Jews had for an American intervention that would have halted or even
prevented the holocaust. While the Americans in both the film and in history
did act, they came so late that the Chickens and Jews had concluded already
that they had to act for their own preservation.
In history as in the film, America does arrive late, but
just in the neck of time before the Jews or in this case, the chickens are
In this regard, Chicken Run
resembles the 1978 Star Wars movie where the very American-like Hans Solo flies
in at the very last possible moment to save the desperate plans of the beleaguered
(Jew-like) rebels who are fighting a nasty Nazi-like evil empire. – just as the
American flying rooster flies in on his tricycle at the last minute to save the
chickens’ desperate escape.
Dress Hans Solo in a chicken suit
and you’ll see what I mean.
references do not stop there. Dress up Harrison Ford (when playing Indiana
Jones) in a chicken suit and you have the vast section of action sequences from
those films especially the first and second. So we get a chicken version of Indiana
Jones battling Nazi-like chicken farmers inside a machine designed for mass slaughter.
While the American Rooster may fly into the dramatic ending scenes the
way Hans Solo does in Star Wars: A New Hope, DreamWorks geniuses reach back
into another Spielberg classic film for the final dramatic scene: ET.
Spielberg did his best to tone down some of the Nazi references from the 1982 ET
when he re-released in a few years ago (such as removing the guns from the
grip of the Nazi-like characters that pursue ET and the kids), the theme of persecution
remained in tact – such as in the rescue of frogs earlier in the film. Nazi’s
misused science for slaughter as well.
final rescue of ET also comes through flying out of the grip of the enemy,
first by stealing an ambulance, then by ET levitating the bicycles and finally
by taking off in a space ship.
Chicken Run, we get all three, but in an altered order:
American rooster flies into the ending scene ala Hans Solo.
winged contraption flaps its way into the air.
in a repeat of an ET scene, we have the evil chicken farm owner climbed the
string of Christmas lights in much the same way we had the scientists climbing
along the tubes towards the back of the fleeing ambulance – in both cases, the hero
seeks to cut the connection before the villains arrive.
in ET, the heroes of Chicken Run find sanctuary, making me wonder if Spielberg
really sees Israel as a bird sanctuary.
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