Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget
The stop-motion animation sequel isn't quite as tasty as the original, but it's still a fun, kid-friendly romp as the hens (and a couple of inconsequential roosters) break into a chicken factory.
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I’ve always harbored a soft-boiled spot in my heart for “Chicken Run,” the 2000 stop-motion animation film from Aardman Animations, their first feature-length film. It’s basically “The Great Escape” done with chickens as the prisoners, trying to break out of the farm where they’ve been kept as egg-laying workers, but were threatened with getting turned into pies.
A sequel has been laid at our feet, with Aardman partnering with Netflix to debut it exclusively on the streaming service. It’s not quite as tasty as the original, but still boasts enough family-friendly fun to recommend.
Instead of a breakout it’s a break-in, as the adventurous hens — and a pair of inconsequential roosters — look to pull off a rescue from Fun-Land Farms, a massive steampunk factory where chickens are turned into buckets of nuggets via an army of Rube Goldbergian contraptions.
The animation is absolutely top-notch, still stop-motion but smoother than the first film, with I’m guessing some CGI help on the fringes. If you’re a fan of other Aardman projects like Wallace & Gromit, “Nugget” surely won’t disappoint.
I was not surprised that Mel Gibson, one of the co-leads as the voice of Rocky the strutting rooster, had been replaced. Hollywood can’t quite seem to decide how canceled he is. Zachary Levi takes over the duties and gets the general cadence of the character down without trying to mimic Gibson.
It turns out that much of the principle voice cast has actually been changed, not just Gibson. Thandiwe Newton takes over as Ginger, the wallflower-turned-leader of the prison escape. Her rendition is so close to Julia Sawalha’s, I didn’t even notice.
Romesh Ranganathan and Daniel Mays are other fill-ins as scampy rats Nick and Fetcher, good at “organizing” materials the chickens need for their heists. David Bradley takes on the role of Fowler, the elderly militaristic rooster, from Benjamin Whitrow, who passed away.
The creative team is new, too, with director Sam Fell working off a script by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O'Farrell and Rachel Tunnard. Original writing/directing team and longtime Aardmanites Nick Park and Peter Lord are credited here as executive producers.
There are a few holdovers. Miranda Richardson is back as Mrs. Tweedy, the villainous chicken-killer, and Imelda Staunton, Jane Horrocks and Lynn Ferguson voice the most significant background hen players, Bunty, Babs and Mac, respectively.
The key new arrival is Molly (Bella Ramsey), the offspring of Rocky and Ginger. Their entire flock is now ensconced on a lake island in the countryside where they’ve lived happily in peace for some time now. We watch Molly grow from egg to chick to whatever the chicken equivalent of teenager is, adventurous and pushing against the limits of their staid existence.
When a road for Fun-Land is cleared across the lake, Molly’s inquisitiveness gets the better of her. She winds up partnering with Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), a like-minded youngster, dazzled by the truck’s depiction of a happy chicken nestled inside a paper bucket. They think it’s some kind of cool accessory the grown-ups have been hiding from them, not realizing it’s the repository of their own demise.
Fun-Land seems to live up to its name at first, a virtual amusement park for chickens to play games, ride slides and otherwise escape the drudgery of chores and laying eggs. Of course there’s a sinister side, and I’m not giving anything away to say Mrs. Tweedy is at the center of it.
She’s assisted by Dr. Fry (Nick Mohammed), a distracted scientist type, who came up with a system to control the chickens so they won’t stress themselves out, resulting in dry, tasteless nuggets.
The real fun begins when Ginger and her crew resolve to rescue Molly. They’re daunted by an elaborate security system that includes robot ducks with laser eyes, hidden vacuum traps and other gadgets that seem really expensive for a food processing plant. Mrs. Tweedy’s overhead must be brutal.
Rocky, the former self-described “Lone Free Ranger,” pulls his usual derring-do act and immediately gets himself separated and in trouble. A running theme is that he and Fowler keep thinking they’re strong rooster-dudes leading the rescue operation, but mostly they just get in the way or foul things up.
Chicks in charge, indeed.
There are a few life-lessons moments in the mix, mostly about Ginger learning not to be too strict and let Molly learn and take risks — hopefully just not the extra-crispy kind. Rocky is relegated to the role of clueless dad just trying to keep up with the females, which seems to be the prevalent mode of our popular entertainment these days.
“Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” doesn’t offer any animated fare that breaks the mold of the original recipe. But even if it’s not very spicy, there’s enough entertainment value here to order in for the whole family.