Chicken Run – as metaphor for the Jewish holocaust?


"Oh," cried 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 completely obliterated.

            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.

            The 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.

            While 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.

            The 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.

            In Chicken Run, we get all three, but in an altered order:

            The American rooster flies into the ending scene ala Hans Solo.

            The winged contraption flaps its way into the air.

            Then 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.

            As 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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