Clucking Mad over "Chicken Run"

British children's author files copyright-infringement suit claiming he came up with idea for hit 'toon

By Josh Grossberg Jun 27, 2003 9:00 PMTags

A children's author is crying fowl over DreamWorks' animated hit Chicken Run.

British scribe Alan Davidson has filed a multimillion-dollar copyright-infringement suit against the studio and animators Nick Park and Peter Lord, claiming they swiped his kiddie tale and used it as the basis for the 2000 feature, London's Daily Telegraph reports.

The lawsuit, filed in Lewes County Court in southern England, names DreamWorks and Lord's Aardman Animations company as the principal defendants.

In the suit, Davidson alleges that the filmmakers failed to give him his due credit when they "boldly appropriated" the plot of his 1995 book Escape From Cold Ditch, a year after it was published.

"According to Nick Park?when Park and Lord pitched the idea to DreamWorks in January 1996, 'all we had was this one joke: an escape movie with chickens," the complaint reads. "When the defendants released Chicken Run on June 23, 2000, however they had much more--they had a story strikingly similar to Escape From Cold Ditch.

That children's book focused on a mutinous group of hens who hatch a daring getaway from a chicken coop and was inspired by the real-life heroics of British POWs who managed to break out of Colditz Castle, a famed Nazi prison camp during World War II.

Court papers asserts that Chicken Run's lead character, Rocky the Rooster (voiced by Mel Gibson), who lands in the coop and starts organizing his fellow fowls' escape, is not unlike a special agent bird in Cold Ditch, who parachutes in to help lead those chickens home to roost.

Additionally, both stories share the same locale, a post-industrial farm in rural England and feature chickens that must survive crossing a harrowing field of barbed wire and other obstacles to freedom. The suit also contends they are very similar in theme, including many "references to Second World War POW escape stories.

"Each story is also a satire on inhumane farming and human greed. They also share numerous story events and sequences and similar dialogue," adds the complaint.

Davidson is seeking a slice of Chicken Run's $223 million worldwide gross and the millions more in profit stemming from video sales and merchandise tie-ins.

When it came to finding parallels to other works, however, several reviewers pointed out that Chicken Run appeared to be a clucked-up take on the classic Steve McQueen POW flick The Great Escape.

The animated comedy was Aardman Animation's first foray into feature films after having won Oscars for Nick Park's beloved Wallace and Grommit series of shorts, including A Grand Day Out, A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers. Aardman also produced the British TV series Creature Comforts.

For his part, Parks has said in the past that he came up with the idea for the film over a chicken dinner with DreamWorks chief Steven Spielberg.

While Davidson wouldn't talk about the suit, his rep told the Associated Press the legal action was "a matter of principle and honesty."

DreamWorks refused to comment, pending litigation, but an Aardman rep rejected the accusations of plagiarism.

"We deny that there is any basis whatsoever for Mr. Davidson's claim and we intend to defend the litigation," a company spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.

Aardman's next big-screen adventure was tentatively going to be Tortoise vs. Hare, but shooting on the film was delayed so the filmmakers could smooth out problems with the script. No word when that film will be released to theaters.