THE STORY – Having escaped from the farm, Ginger and Rocky welcome a new little adventurer into their lives. Back on the mainland, the whole of chicken-kind faces a terrible new threat.
THE CAST – Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Josie Sedgwick-Davies, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Mohammed & Miranda Richardson
THE TEAM – Sam Fell (Director), Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell & Rachel Tunnard (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
It’s always tricky to create a sequel to a beloved animated film after several years have passed. However, 23 years after the original film, “Chicken: Run Dawn of the Nugget,” takes what we know about the famous chickens from the 2000 Aardman animated film “Chicken Run” and expands on it in a brilliantly funny film that, although can’t match the quality of the original, is still a worthy sequel all on its own.
“Chicken: Run Dawn of the Nugget” begins with a black-and-white flashback sequence, showing the chicken’s time on the farm, including their escape, as the film reestablishes the characters with a voiceover from Rocky (Zachary Levi). He is talking to his and Ginger’s (Thandiwe Newton) new daughter Molly (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), who, as she grows up, wants to leave the island and explore other lands, much like Disney’s “Moana.” It’s established that their new surroundings are a self-contained island away from all humans; it’s an absolutely stunning paradise where they never leave, a fact that frustrates Molly.
As much as Ginger tries to protect her, Molly is lured away by a dreamy-looking alternative chicken world. She is ultimately kidnapped and taken to a state-of-the-art farm, where she befriends Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies). The new character is an injection of energy this sequel needs, as she and Molly have a lovely bond, adding another layer to the film as their friendship grows. It’s here we see the Ginger we know and love leap back into her planning mode as she devises a plan to rescue her daughter. While the first “Chicken Run” film was a full-blown homage to the classic “The Great Escape” with multiple prison and caper references and gags citing the 1963 film, this long-awaited sequel uses more modern nods, giving it more of a contemporary feel. It’s a spy film, dressed up as an Aardman stop-motion plasticine chicken film, which could easily take place in the “Mission: Impossible” universe as the gang takes on this impenetrable force.
“Chicken: Run Dawn of the Nugget” deals with more profound subjects than you’d expect, including past traumas, being an overprotective parent, and overcoming your fears. Ginger is clearly traumatized by her prior experience from the first film, something which she is forced to face as Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) returns. The dastardly villain, who comes back from the first film after trying to build a business on chicken pies, has learned from her past and has now created a facility in which she controls the actions of her poultry. The farm is Mrs. Tweedy’s personal villain lair, which is very much like a prison, considering the amount of advanced security (robotic ducks, electric fence, motion sensors) it holds. She’s become a much darker character than ever before, making her all the more frightening for the chickens and younger audiences. For an animated film by Aardman, “Chicken: Run Dawn of the Nugget” is grittier than you may expect. However, as dark as the story may become, there are plenty of hilarious gags, as expected, including a joke about Fowler’s (David Bradley) goujons, misinterpretation of the word gear, as well as background jokes such as the newspaper headlines reading “Police Suspect Fowl Play” all suggesting the animators were having a wonderful time crafting this story and world.
While some members of the original cast return, the two leads have changed, with Zachary Levi taking over from Mel Gibson as Rocky and Thandiwe Newton voicing Ginger instead of Julia Sawalha. The latter proved somewhat controversial after Sawalha was told she was too old to reprise the role. She even went as far as to release a video comparing her voice between the release of the original and now. Those aware of the situation will find this unfortunate event a sticking point in the film, as fans of the original will no doubt miss Sawalha’s voice. It can be a bit jarring to hear Thandiwe’s voice instead. Still, she does a solid job of providing that inspiring voice of reason the character is known for. Ginger is trying to stop the inevitable from happening; it’s clear that being a parent has taken its toll on her, and she now wants to hide from the humans rather than take them on. It isn’t until she’s forced to interact with them that she is thrust into action. Although this changes her character’s dynamic, it ultimately makes sense for this story and the character’s growth. She wants to protect her daughter and herself from what she knows about humanity.
Harry Gregson-Williams returns as the film’s composer and creates an immediately recognizable score with all the tones of an Aardman film. This, coupled with the songs used in the movie, including a highly humorous use of Cliff Richard’s “Summer Holiday,” makes for some positively amusing scenes and gives the film a wonderful vibrancy.
If there is any complaint to be found, it’s when the film ramps up the danger all the characters face with such a quickened pace; this doesn’t quite work for “Dawn Of The Nugget.” Whereas “Chicken Run” is set on a fairly simplistic farm and is considered a low-key film, “Dawn of the Nugget” adds more to the stakes and scale with its high-tech facility, making the story feel too big by comparison and inevitably losing some of its charm in the process. Sometimes, less is more.
Not only are there nods to “Mission: Impossible” and “The Truman Show,” it’s evident “Chicken: Run Dawn of the Nugget” was made by artists who love film, but most importantly, the original “Chicken Run.” Director Sam Fell, whose previous stop-motion animated films include “ParaNorman” and “Flushed Away,” uses his experience and talent to create a new world for the chickens to conquer by working together, which is hugely entertaining and heartwarming. Some may have been worried that with such a large gap between the release of these films, some of the Aardman magic would have been lost. However, the special stop-motion practices they are known for are front and center. Even seeing random fingerprints in the plasticine adds a unique flavor to their brand of storytelling you won’t find anywhere else.
Even though “Chicken: Run Dawn of the Nugget” doesn’t quite meet the quality of its predecessor, it’s a valiant attempt at creating something just as memorable and respected. It’s a funny, feel-good family film that is a clucking good time.