Running Time: 97 mins
UK Distributor: Netflix
UK Release Date: 15 December 2023
WHO’S IN CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET?
Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson, Josie Sedgwick-Davies, Miranda Richardson, Nick Mohammed, Peter Serafinowicz
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Sam Fell (director), Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell and Rachel Tunnard (writers), Leyla Hobart and Steve Pegram (producers), Harry Gregson-Williams (composer), Charles Copping (cinematographer), Stephen Perkins (editor)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Ginger (Newton) and her flock of chickens embark on a perilous break-in…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET?
Aardman, the British animation studio that famously specialises in hand-crafted Claymation, is perhaps best known around the world for the likes of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, but kids who were around in 2000 will also fondly remember the studio’s first-ever feature Chicken Run as a worthy ally. The film enchanted critics and audiences with its witty and delightfully silly humour, sprung from its main concept of chickens trying to escape a farm in the style of The Great Escape, but also its surprisingly high stakes with its establishment of a universe where anyone, humans and chickens alike, can die rather brutally. That, on top of its financial success with a worldwide gross of $227 million (making it the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time, even to this day), cemented the film’s legacy as an Aardman classic, as well as an all-around family hit.
More than twenty years later, the long-mooted sequel Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is absolutely banking on the nostalgia of early 2000s kids for its own sense of longevity, not to mention the Aardman name that it proudly carries. However, provided that new distributor Netflix (taking over from DreamWorks, who released the original film) doesn’t completely botch its planned rollout, there’s not much else to worry about, for this is a largely fun follow-up that retains most of its predecessor’s spirit while still dabbling in that ever-charming Aardman wit, though it never quite reaches the heights of what came before.
Set some time after the events of the first film, where – spoiler alert for a 20+ year-old movie – the chickens manage to escape and find a home on a remote bird sanctuary, the ever-resilient Ginger (voiced by Thandiwe Newton) and her partner, the American rooster Rocky (Zachary Levi), become parents to an adventurous young chick named Molly (Bella Ramsey), who’s got plenty of her mother’s desire for freedom and independence. However, Molly finds herself drawn to a friendly-looking chicken utopia, and along with her new friend Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies) is transported to a heavily guarded facility where the chickens’ old nemesis Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) – now remarried to aloof scientist Dr. Fry (Nick Mohammed) – plans to turn them into a fanciful new attraction called “fast food”. Now, Ginger, Rocky, and their various allies including fellow chickens Babs (Jane Horrocks), Bunty (Imelda Staunton), Mac (Lynn Ferguson) and Fowler (David Bradley), and mice duo Nick and Fetcher (Romesh Ranganathan and Daniel Mays respectively) must stage a perilous break-in to save Molly and the rest of the chickens from meeting a cruel – but tasty – fate.
One of the things I was most concerned about with this film was that, under its new home at Netflix, the dark(ish) tone of the first Chicken Run would be overly lightened up for modern family audiences. That film had moments that were pretty grim, even for most family flicks released around the same time, such as early on where a chicken is decapitated with its bare carcass later being shown after being served up for dinner, while later there are some genuinely intimidating scenes of villains wielding axes with absolute evil in their eyes.
Knowing the sensitivity of some overly-concerned parents nowadays, it wouldn’t have shocked me to find that Netflix had heavily sanitised that tone for this sequel, but to both my surprise and relief, Dawn of the Nugget still has a grim edge that can make it quite unnerving in parts. Without getting into specifics, there’s a plot point in this movie which involves a type of lobotomization that leaves certain characters, even ones we’ve grown to really like, in a zombified state that is genuinely creepy to watch, especially when it gets synced up to a classic Cliff Richard number in a scene that borders on terrifying.
And yes, chickens are still very much in danger of being killed at any moment, though here it is actually kind of messed up when you think about it from their perspective, because they are being grinded, chopped and served up within seconds for human consumption, and the film recognises how horrifying that notion is, albeit in humorous ways.
The film has plenty of funny gags that kids and adults can giggle senselessly at, with Jane Horrocks’ hilariously naïve Babs once again getting some of the biggest laughs from her eternally optimistic delivery alone, and as is custom with Aardman there are enough throwaway jokes to warrant at least one other repeat viewing, if only to pick up on all the ones you may have missed.
I will say, though, that I remember laughing a lot more at the first Chicken Run film, which had a much more consistent gag rate than Dawn of the Nugget does, as well as a more memorable aesthetic with the chicken farm they’re breaking out of being shot like POW camps in a classic wartime caper, whereas here everything’s much more brightly lit and with more noticeable digital alterations that doesn’t always match the universe established in the previous movie.
Furthermore, while the familiar characters are still enjoyable, it does take a short while to get used to some of their new voices, who all do fine like Thandiwe Newton (who, in a move decried as ageist by some fans, replaces original voice actor Julia Sawalha) and Zachary Levi (filling in for Mel Gibson, which is a recast that makes much more sense) as the new Ginger and Rocky, but since they don’t exactly sound like they used to, not to mention the fact that some are written with newer insecurities and personality traits, it gets to a point where you wonder if it’s even meant to be the same characters from the original.
For the most part, however, viewers will have a pleasant enough time with Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. It’s not as instantly iconic as its predecessor, but there’s enough to like about it, from its funny gags to, of course, its excellent animation as crafted by extremely talented artisans that have literally put their thumbprints all over their work. Maybe avoid getting a KFC takeaway to eat whilst watching it, though.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is a fun and amusing sequel to Aardman’s beloved 2000 feature, with plenty of silly gags and great stop-motion animation complimenting its occasionally darker edge, though it never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor due to certain changes that don’t always fly.