Director – Sam Fell – Co-Director – Jeff Newitt – 2023 – UK – Cert. PG – 101m
Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Having escaped the farm for an island paradise, the chickens must break into and wreck a food processing factory masquerading as a holiday camp to lure unwitting chickens to their doom – out in UK cinemas on Friday, December 8th and on Netflix from Friday, December 15th
More than two decades after the original Chicken Run (Nick Park, Peter Lord, 2000), its poultry return. They can hardly escape from the farm again, having established themselves on a secluded island in a lake well away from human beings. So the original’s co-screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, a veteran of The Rescuers Down Under (1990), James And The Giant Peach (1996), The Little Vampire (2000), Charlotte’s Web (2006), makes use of a number of very clever tricks to have the chickens break in to a facility that endangers chicken lives rather than break out of one.
He effectively redeploys the escapees from the original, but it being over two decades since its production, he races through what would be just over a decade in chicken years if their lifespans were comparable to humans and has the hero Rocky (voice: Zachary Levi) and the heroine Ginger (voice: Thandiwe Newton) get together and produce a family in the form of a daughter, Molly (voice: Bella Ramsey) , who in the opening minutes’ montage grows into a teenager. The island is a safe place where nothing much happens: the chickens relax and enjoy life. Rocky, Ginger and the other farm escapees including Mac (voice: Lynn Ferguson), Babs (voice: Jane Horrocks) and Bunty (voice: Imelda Staunton) know just how dangerous the outside world can be for chickens: Molly, who has never left the island, does not. Like her father before her, she has a wanderlust and wants to get out and see the world. And like her mother, she has an indomitable spirit that won’t take no for an answer.
And then, things start happening on the shore of the lake visible from the island. Human vehicles and machines appear and trees disappear. Against her parents’ wishes, Molly starts exploring and becomes captivated by a billboard image of a chicken enjoying itself relaxing in a bucket. On her travels, she runs into another teenage chicken girl possessed of the same desire, and together they head out to Fun-Land Farms. Only it isn’t really a holiday resort, but the latest enterprise of Mrs. Tweedy (voice: Miranda Richardson) who has moved on from Chicken Run’s farm to a processing plant where, like a Bond villain, she controls the minds of hapless chicken visitors to what appears to be a holiday resort so that they happily walk up the staircase leading to the conveyor belt that will take them into the plant and towards their deaths. She is aided by latest husband Dr. Fry (Nick Mohammed), the inventor and technology geek behind the processing plant, and businessman Reginald Smith (Peter Serafinowicz).
Can Rocky, Ginger and the other island chickens break in to Mrs. Tweedy’s industrial complex and stop her evil plan?
Where the first film was realised with stop-motion, this new one involves a mixture of stop-motion for the main characters and computer animation for the background characters. Aardman Animations, whose background is in stop-frame plasticine productions, have been honing their CGI skills for some time on such productions as Flushed Away (Sam Fell, 2006), a film which looks like stop-frame but is in fact realised in CGI. Over the years, they’ve got better at it to the degree that, on Dawn of the Nugget, it’s impossible to see where the stop-frame work ends and the CGI begins.
Like its predecessor, this doesn’t shy away from the darkness of parts of its subject matter, i.e. in farming, chickens are killed to be eaten by humans, even as it trades on the fact that chickens – essentially fairly stupid creatures – are transformed into heroes as they stand up against their dire predicament. A number of the original voice cast members reprise their roles (Ferguson, Horrocks, Staunton, Richardson) while other actors, including Newton and Levi playing Ginger and Rocky, replace the actors originally cast. Great care has been taken with those replacement actors so that you immediately think they are the original actors, even though they are not. It helps no end that the characters are scripted to be consistent with those in the original.
And yet, despite a superb cast and Aardman’s technical innovation, it’s not quite as effective as the original. By the tiniest of slivers. All I can think of is the direction. Nick Park and Peter Lord, who directed the original, are geniuses at comic timing whereas perhaps Sam Fell’s undeniable talents lie elsewhere (as well as minor Aardman entry Flushed Away, his filmography includes 2012’s edgy ParaNorman for rival stop-frame company Laika). But Jeff Newitt, credited on the print as co-director, is an adept, comic gag man. So, who knows? That’s a minor carp, however; if the original Chicken Run remains ever so slightly more impressive, this sequel isn’t at all bad.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, December 8th and on Netflix from Friday, December 15th.