The Wanted Chicken: The Crimes of Feathers McGraw


Megan Stoker (she/her) discusses cinema’s most sinister and nefarious animated villain

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Image by IMDb

By Megan Stoker

From the suspicious cider Rat of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox, to Lord Farquaad from Shrek, or even delving into the extensive Disney universe (Yzma, Gaston, or the chilling Scar to name a few), children have certainly gotten their fill of tantalisingly dubious antagonists. With their often dramatic, excessive, and distinctive styles and body language, every effort is made to make these figures embody their role in the story. But nonetheless, in my opinion the most chilling, psychotic, and thrilling villain – the most sinister of them all – is one that emits not even a squark. Often donning only a red rubber glove or seen with a suitcase by his side, with a pistol tucked neatly and discreetly between the layers of his plasticine
feather down; Feathers McGraw holds the title as the most well-crafted animated antagonist.

How often does one find an animated figure so intriguing but so downright detestable? I would say it is incredibly rare. A penguin (or chicken, depending on which persona he adopts), McGraw is fleshed out in Aardman’s short film Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers as a stone cold diamond thief. His very vagueness leaves room for further investigation. The sudden appearance, lack of emotion, his ability to travel light without an utterance, and a single wanted poster leaves us thinking… What could this possibly mean? What is Feathers McGraw capable of? Who knows? I, for one, do not.

Somehow, he is privy to the knowledge of the wrong trousers, gifted to Gromit by Wallace as an under-thought birthday present. The absent-minded owner is completely unaware of this coincidence, but nevertheless invites the mysterious chicken-penguin into his home to share more than just the breakfast table.

The creators of Wallace and Gromit quite simply produce a masterclass in characterisation. Feathers McGraw is ultimately an absolute criminal mastermind, whose plan is only foiled by his excessive hubris and underestimation of a cheese chomping man’s best friend. His criminality deeply manifests within his mannerisms, coy looks, and the placing of the camera. Each individual shot of McGraw is rooted in reinforcing his malevolent intentions, that are laid bare to the audience and Gromit – but utterly undetectable to any other character. The comedy of this alone is a credit to the craftsmanship of this short film.

Taking a brief but deeper look into the makings of McGraw contextualises my fervently complex feelings. When revisiting the animation after childhood, I was struck by the intricacy of claymation. From the humanistic whispers of fingerprints upon the clay, to the shot-by-shot details of character movements, it adds to the considered characterisation of such a bird. Consisting of multitudes of carefully crafted plasticine parts interchanged throughout the frames and eventually knitted together. This technique is incredibly hands-on; yet notice how McGraw is slightly smoother than his counterparts. Whether unintentional or in emulation of a penguin’s streamline feather-down, it signals McGraw’s own moral failings because he lacks the distinctive human touch that the other characters possess in older Aardman creations. Despite being a creature typically liberated from human morality, in Aardman’s constructed world these typical ontological rules are rejected. This worldview is reminiscent of the childlike imagination. The entire plotline is positively dreamlike and its heartfelt, humorous storytelling has captured the hearts of all ages and demonstrated via the production’s Academy award for Best Short Film in 1994. This, paired with the intricate crafting of McGraw, invites both artistic admiration and cinematic suspicion. What can we expect from an antagonist when the laws of nature no longer apply?

A technological genius and tentative planner, with his soft padding feet and beady eyes, Feathers McGraw makes for a difficult foe to defeat. His smooth human-like walk is nothing short of a concern. McGraw is a penguin detached from the natural world, more suited to scouring the streets than plunging into ice-cold waters. Whilst parallels can be drawn between both Gromit and McGraw, this is a matter of good and bad. Gromit directly contrasts McGraw because he works explicitly within the preconceived moral compass of society and the framework of law and justice. It becomes his mission to
liberate his best friend and bring attention to McGraw’s misdirection.

An expert rail rider and criminal mastermind all rolled into one, there is no one who can change my mind about the sinister cinematic presence of Feathers McGraw. Prison is the only place this penguin belongs.