The Aardman animation sequel combines quirky British humour with emotional depth to create a faster, zanier caper with more ambitious action set pieces, more white-knuckle jeopardy, and more robotic ducks.
It’s been 23 years since Chicken Run, Aardman’s first full-length feature film, introduced the world at large to the Bristolians’ claymation figures and batty British humour – and it’s still the studio’s biggest box-office hit. That statistic might explain why Aardman has now made a Chicken Run sequel, but it could also explain why they waited so long. Faced with the challenge of living up to such a beloved global smash, you can hardly blame them for chickening out. Luckily, the risk they’ve finally taken has paid off. Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget doesn’t just reach the standards of its high-flying predecessor, but it soars above them.
More like this:
Written by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell, and Rachel Tunnard, the story begins immediately after the end of the original Chicken Run – an illusion that is a lot easier to pull off when you’re animating clay models than it is when you’re shooting flesh-and-blood actors. Ginger the hen and Rocky the rooster have escaped from the Tweedys’ farm, and now live with the rest of their feathered friends on an idyllic island, in the kind of rustic village that could easily be inhabited by hobbits or Ewoks.
Ginger and Rocky then have a chick, Molly (voiced by Bella Ramsey), who soon grows into a teenager – or whatever the equivalent of a teenager is in poultry years. She might lead a carefree, free-range life, but she has inherited her dad’s wanderlust and her mum’s rebellious defiance, so she is annoyed that they won’t let her leave the island. To their horror, Ginger and Rocky realise that Molly sees them as jailers, just as they saw Mr and Mrs Tweedy as jailers – so even in its opening minutes, the sequel has more emotional depth than the whole of the first Chicken Run.
When Molly spots a lorry with “Fun-Land Farms” painted enticingly on the side, she runs away from home, and discovers too late that a place that was advertised as a paradise is actually a monstrous space-age fortress with a marked resemblance to a Bond villain’s base. Inside, the captive hens are fitted with will-sapping electronic collars that turn them into compliant zombies, as mindlessly content to walk to their doom as the women in The Stepford Wives. Ginger and Rocky plan a rescue mission, and Ginger utters a line that was presumably intended as much for the trailer as for the film: “Last time we broke out of a chicken farm. This time we’re breaking in.”
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget
Cast: Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton
Release date: 15 December on Netflix
The only off-putting thing about this is that last time, Ginger and Rocky were voiced by Julia Sawalha and Mel Gibson, whereas this time, Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi have taken over the roles. “I have officially been plucked, stuffed and roasted,” the actress complained of the recasting on social media. Director Sam Fell (Flushed Away) responded by saying he saw the film “as a reboot, rather than a sequel”, explaining that “the characters are evolving… and Ginger’s evolved in this film. It’s a new chapter.”
Well, fair enough, but Newton doesn’t sound any better as Ginger than Sawalha did. Meanwhile, the two spivvy rats are played by new actors (Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays), whereas several of the hens (Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson) have the same voices as they did in 2000. It’s all a bit distracting.
Otherwise, Dawn of the Nugget is buoyant family entertainment, with far more jokes and more silliness than its predecessor. The original Chicken Run was a fairly straightforward and slightly gloomy pastiche of The Great Escape and other prisoner-of-war dramas: aside from the pie-making contraption and the wooden airplane, it lacked the wonderful English eccentricity (or egg-centricity) of Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit films.
The sequel is inspired by Mission: Impossible, James Bond and various other spy thrillers and heist movies, and this shift in genres has allowed for a faster, zanier caper with a brighter colour palette, more ambitious action set pieces, more inventive designs, more white-knuckle jeopardy, and more robotic ducks. The trick is that the filmmakers balance the shiny surfaces and high-tech devices of a futuristic 1960s science-fiction adventure with enough old-fashioned, analogue elements to ensure that Dawn of the Nugget is unmistakably the work of Aardman.
There is also a slyly subversive edge to proceedings. The corporate Fun-Land Farms compound is more sinister than the Tweedys’ crumbling farm was, and, for all its wackiness, the film includes frequent reminders of the reality of modern industrialised meat processing. Most viewers should be cock-a-hoop, although shareholders of certain fast-food franchises might wish that plans for a Chicken Run sequel had never been hatched.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is streaming on Netflix from 15 December.
If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.