Family Guy Chicken Fight Scenes

I’m going to kick off a new feature of PlayFighting with a series of fights that everybody loves. If you haven’t seen the Chicken fights from Family Guy, you’re in for a treat.

Fight Movies

Introducing the Fight Movies category. I will be showing fights from film and TV, and pointing out the best and the worst of fight direction.

Animation Provides Ultimate Choice

It really struck home for me when I watched Bolt. There is an action/chase sequence near the start of the film that shows off the awesomeness of the superhero dog. I’ll follow up this post with a full analysis of that scene. When I saw that sequence, my first reaction was: why aren’t all action scenes that good? The answer: animators can do anything they choose.

They have the ability to:

  • place the camera where they want,
  • get the perfect timing on every move,
  • exactly pace the camera moves, even very fast pans,
  • and their performers are perfect.

So, I think a good measuring stick for any fight scene is to compare it to the great animated fights, and I’ll start with some of my favourites: Family Guy.

Chicken Fight 1

In the episode entitled “Da Boom” about the end of the world and the Y2K bug, Peter and the man-sized chicken fight for the first time. Why? Because the chicken gave him a coupon as a promotion, but it had expired.

Fight Summary
Peter and the chicken fight for almost 2 minutes. From the street, they fight onto an overpass, then continue on a passing truck. When the truck falls from the lip of a raised bridge, they grab hold of a passing helicopter, which sends them through the window of a skyscraper. Peter thinks he has won when he crushes the chicken’s head in a photocopier, but it concludes with the the pair falling out of the window. The chicken cushions Peter’s fall, and he is left for dead.

Chicken Fight 2

In the episode “Blind Ambition” (season 4), the chicken tackles Peter out of nowhere, and their fight tops the first one in every way, including length and pointlessness.

Fight Summary
At almost 3 minutes, this fight is 50% longer than the first one. As they fight on the street, cars, trucks and a schoolbus swerve to avoid hitting them, each vehicle crashing and exploding. The combatants are hit by a car, and they continue to pommel each other with their heads through the windshield. The car is hit by a train, and the conflict continues on the roof of the cars. Next, they fall off onto a hand-car (or pump-car), which dumps them over a cliff, and they fight until they crash through the ceiling of a ballroom of a cruise ship. They end up in the engine room, and accidentally set the throttle to full. The boat crashes through town, ending up at the airport. It ends with an homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the chicken hit by the blades of the WWII plane.

Chicken Fight 3

In “No Chris Left Behind” in season 5, we have the third installment of the chicken fights. Once again, the fight starts with the chicken attacking Peter by surprise. We assume he has come for revenge from the previous beating.

Fight Summary
This fight is over 5 minutes long, however, there is an interlude in the middle when they have dinner. Both have forgotten why they were fighting, and put aside their differences. At dinner, we find out that the chicken’s name is Ernie, and his wife is Nicole. The peace is short-lived, and violence erupts again over who will pay the cheque.

According to Wikipedia, this is the longest non-plot-developing scene in the entire series.

I have wanted to film the chicken fights using live actors, but Chicken Fight 3 took that dream away. There is no way to cause that much destruction in the name of a gimmick. Again, animation is a wonderful tool.

Details: Why This Fight Rocks

I’ll take all three fights as instances of one big conflict, since they share a lot in common. The style of filming is consistent between all three, and the fighting techniques do not vary.

First of all, notice the variety of moves: there isn’t that much. This is actually a good thing. Too many movie fights try to incorporate every cool move the choreographer knows, and put in “filler moves” just to get to the next spectacular thing. That sort of fighting is exemplified by professional wrestling, and doesn’t belong in good film or TV.

Punch after punch. This is how people fight, especially if it’s working. Notice that a lot of the blows land. If a character punches and that punch connects and does damage, the person will keep punching… it works. A fighter changes tactics when things don’t work. The same goes for head slams, stomping, and beak-pecking.

Speaking of beak-pecking: notice that the anthropomorphic chicken uses his natural weapon to his advantage, but only when it’s practical. He isn’t limited to only pecking, but when the opportunity is there (Peter’s face is at close range), he uses it.

Here’s where the fight really stands out: locations and props. I hate to admit it, but most fights that people think are great are mostly due to using a bunch of different weapons in a bunch of different places.

In Chicken Fight 2, they fight in virtually every mode of transportation except bicycle. And almost every place they fight is destroyed in a fiery explosion. Chicken Fight 1 ends with them falling from a high window. And in every scene, they use their environment for weaponry. They slam each other into hard surfaces, grab objects to smash against the opponent, and take every advantage that position or environment can afford.

Now the technical stuff. Take a look at the “camera moves” and the cuts. This is taken directly from action movies, but also points out the best of their use. Remember that animators could do anything. If they wanted to, it could be one long shot, because their “actors” don’t need to rest, they don’t need to set up special effects, and they don’t need safety devices. So, one choice would be not to have cuts at all.

But they do use cuts. Why? To mimic what we’re used to in live action? Partly. But more importantly, cuts give a sense of pace, and shifts of emphasis. If a blow is particularly hard, we have a separate shot showing the impact. If a sequence has a lot of ineffective light hits, then they’re shown together with no cuts. For pacing, you’ll notice that one shot is not sustained for more than 5-8 moves, or about 2 seconds.

Story: Also Rocks

The mechanics discussed above are the little details to consider when designing the fight. However, a great fight is more than a series of moves that is well filmed. A great fight involves story.

Character Motivation
Well, the only thing I can state is the obvious: this conflict is way too epic for the inciting incident. Of course, that is the humour of the scene.

In Chicken Fight 3, we stop in the middle to address character motivation, which recaps the initial joke. “Something about a coupon?”

Of course, in a dramatic fight, the question “Why fight?” should be the starting point that a choreographer uses to decide how long a fight should be and where it should go.

Level of Realism
I really like these fights because lines are nicely blurred. It is totally unrealistic that these two fighters would have the stamina to last that long in continuous combat, besides falling from enormous heights and being crushed by tons of rubble.

On the other hand, their tactics are not those of superheroes. When the chicken pecks, it really hurts. Being hit with wooden props is more effective than punches. There is a mild amount of blood and bruising showing that they are both taking damaging blows. In short, on the level of the individual fight move there is a high level of realism.

In short, a comical cartoon fight can play with reality, while staying consistent.

Internal Logic and Storytelling

There are some fun moments in the fights that you may or may not like. In Chicken Fight 1, the chicken falls onto the roof of the truck, and thinks he has escaped. Peter jumps from the next overpass… how did he get there? It doesn’t matter, what is important is the moment of discovery. I personally think that’s a weak part of the scene, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the logic of the fights.

In Chicken Fight 3, the fight restarts over who will pay the bill at the restaurant. They start to fight, and when Peter has a free moment, he throws money onto the table… a great touch that shows character goals and keeps the sequence’s internal logic.


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