Chicken Run – A Study in following your own rules

In a previous life, I was a student officer at University.  Which meant it was my job to nag the University about stuff.  And in order to be successful at nagging, I had to build relationships with University staff.  The hardest of the lot was the Vice Chancellor.  I am not sure he was entirely comfortable with folk under the age of 40.  However, I eventually managed to build that rapport and the point where I realised this was when I was on schmoozing duty at Students’ Union’s Awards Ceremony.  I was talking to the VC, and I said to him, “I have a major problem with Chicken Run, the film.”

His response was the same as everyone’s response.  “You mean that it has talking chickens?”

This was going to be a long night.

“No, Peter,”said I, for Peter was his name.  “I have no issue with that.  It is established in the narrative as a rule of the world that chickens talk to one another, that their feathers can act as fingers and it is perfectly reasonable that intelligent chickens with pre-hensile feathers can build a flying machine.”

Disclaimer – this conversation took place 2 years ago.  The words might not be exact.

This usually confuses my audience.  I have declared that there is a flaw with Chicken Run, but none of the above bothers me.  Here is why, and this is also why it should bother any writer.  Or at least be noted by any writer as something to learn from.

All of the above follow the accepted rules of the world.

Stories, in any genre have internal rules and logic. If a wizard can cast a spell, then other wizards can.  If casting a spell tires the wizard, then all wizards tire when spell casting.  And so on.  That is a simplification, but it works.  You might be skeptical if spell casting caused major exhaustion for 90% of a story, and then suddenly a wizard casts a spell without so much as a wheeze.

“No Peter, my problem with Chicken Run is that it breaks established rules of the world.  Rules of supply, demand, profit and loss.”

That was the point I lost him.  But I am persistent.

“The plot of Chicken Run revolves around a bunch of hens kept as egg laying hens by an evil Farmer’s Wife.  She has no affection for the hens.  They are simply a means to profit.  When chickens stop laying eggs, they are for the chop.  Not worth keeping them.”

Peter nodded sagely.

Disclaimer.  The sageness of the nodding may have been exaggerated.  As may have the nodding have been.

“The Evil Farmer’s wife gets frustrated with the chickens not laying eggs and costing her money.  So, she hatches a plan…”

I am quite pleased with ‘Hatches a plan’.  I am pretty sure I didn’t say that on the night.

“She buys a chicken-killing machine.  A giant metal monstrosity designed to kill all the chickens.  In order that she can sell them as pies to the pie eating public and make a profit.”

More (potential) sage nodding.

“That’s my problem with it.”

Blank look.

“Her business plan makes absolutely no financial sense!  How on earth is she going to make a profit this way?  She invests all her money into the chicken-killing machine to slaughter her entire stock of chickens, (This is a vital plot point.  It necessitates their escape plan) to make pies.  Then what?  All she has is a chicken-killing machine and no chickens.  No bank in the world will loan for that business plan! I isn’t sustainable!”

He actually chuckled at that, and confirmed that there was a certain element of logic to my thought process.

 

Ok, so I have made that story slightly more ridiculous than actually happened.  And I accept that Chicken Run is a kid’s movie, and most kids don’t necessarily think this deep when it comes to elements of plot.  But a writer should.  If your audience’s average age is greater than 5 months, things need to be logical, reasonable and follow an internal logic, even if the logic is of the fantastic.

Until next time

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