3 out of 5 stars

23 years after witnessing the daring escape of a flock of flightless birds from becoming the filling of processed pies, we return to their island paradise to see how freedom fares for these farm animals. Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget follows up on the stop-motion success of Chicken Run (2000) as a film struggling to break free from the shadow of its predecessor; a movie crafted for streaming and its model of original content to consume and discard after a weekend.

Set soon after the events of the first film, Dawn of the Nugget, directed by Sam Fell and written by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell, and Rachel Tunnard, picks up with Rocky (Zachary Levi, replacing the controversial Mel Gibson) swiftly recounting the story of the original film to his and Ginger’s (Thandiwe Newton, subbing for Julia Sawalha) unhatched daughter. In a pop-song-filled montage, we see their daughter, Molly (Bella Ramsey), grow up on their self-reliant island and embrace her adventurous side, often causing mischief for her parents. As she enters her rebellious teenage years, which in chicken years translates to around 20 weeks, she relentlessly pesters her mum and dad to learn more about the world beyond the island. Her curiosity is fueled by the sight of a truck passing by, sporting the vibrant Fun-Land Farms logo, featuring a smiling chicken perched inside a bucket. To her innocent eyes, this image represents an idyllic existence.

On the other hand, Ginger, whose determination and audacity had been the recipe for success in the original escape from Tweedy Farms, had changed her tune. With a daughter to care for, she convinces their chicken commune that the best course of action is to hide. Molly, ever the rebellious and curious spirit, defies her parents’ orders and rows across the lake to explore the unknown world. Even the ingeniously crafted walls of leaves, intended to keep them undetected from humans, couldn’t hold Molly captive. While this strategy works well in the vibrant hues of spring, it’s less effective against the bleakness of winter.

When Molly encounters an equally enthusiastic Scottish chicken named Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), they’re both captured by Fun-Land Farms and transported to a heavily fortified compound. This leaves Ginger, Rocky, and their friends with only one option to rescue Molly: break into the farm.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget cheerfully flips the script of the original movie, while retaining the endearing elements that made Chicken Run so beloved. The eccentric cast of characters, including Bunty (Imelda Staunton), Mac (Lynn Ferguson), and the endearingly dim-witted Babs (Jane Horrocks), all return, steadfast in their unwavering support for their feathered friends. Sly rats Nick (Romesh Ranganathan) and Fetcher (Daniel Mays) prove to be more than mere entrepreneurial salesmen; they stand as true allies to the chickens’ cause. And the self-proclaimed “RAF pilot,” Fowler (David Bradley), does his utmost to lend a hand.

While it’s wonderful to see the returning voice actors reprise their roles after so many years, not all of them could return. Julia Sawalha’s voice was deemed “too old,” prompting her replacement by Thandiwe Newton, only four years her junior. In her debut voice acting role, Newton delivers a stellar performance, imbuing the lead character with the same emotional depth and dedication. Zachary Levi, a seasoned voice actor widely recognised for his portrayal of Flynn Rider in Tangled (2012), chooses not to mimic Mel Gibson’s original interpretation. While this isn’t a distraction, Rocky’s character undergoes a complete transformation for the sequel. All of his moral grey areas and explorations of selflessness are absent, leaving us with a popcorn-loving doof rather than a character grappling with internal conflict.

The new film’s emotional development lies solely between Ginger and her daughter, Molly. Bella Ramsey (The Last of Us) delivers a standout performance as she grapples with the loss of innocence and the power of choice. Ginger finds herself torn between the cost of freedom and the constraints of love, resulting in a poignant mother-daughter story. It’s a delightfully fun family dynamic set against the backdrop of Aardman Studios’ captivating animation.

The creators of Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, Nick Park and Peter Lord, step aside to let Sam Fell take the reins. Despite the change in directorial helm, the shift in visual design is seamless. Borrowing from the original’s aesthetic and the stop-motion films he’s previously made, including Flushed Away (2006) and ParaNorman (2012), Fell’s vision for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget seamlessly mixes the original’s look with a wholly new world. While some may find it overly glossy and colourful, the film’s visually enchanting elements are undeniable. The addition of more humans and scientific upgrades afford the chickens new ways to cause trouble. Notably, the break-in sequence is a comedic highlight, as the chickens must deftly manoeuvre past robotic dogs and ducks, security cameras, and towering walls to infiltrate Fun-Land Farms. Each moment underscores the extraordinary artistry of the animation team, further cementing Aardman’s reputation for technical marvels.

However, what’s missing in Dawn of the Nugget is all the stylistic allure and story that made Chicken Run so memorable. The 2000 film drew inspiration from The Great Escape (1963), transporting audiences to a World War II-style farm where escape seemed impossible. Chicken Run’s unique music, characters, and visual style allowed it to feel both original and playfully homage its live-action inspirations. In contrast, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget fails to capture the same level of imaginative inspiration. Its futuristic elements deviate from the charm of its predecessor and fail to recapture the same moments of joy and fun. Moreover, some predictable twists suck the tension out of the film.

Even the music score, composed by returning composer Harry Gregson-Williams, though lacking co-composer John Powell, fails to distinguish itself from the plethora of animated films coming straight to streaming. However, when the musical cues from the 2000 film resurface, featuring marching drums, triumphant brass, and war-themed flute melodies, we’re reminded of the broader artistic masterpiece that the original connected us to. A world of unique animation and character design in conversation with the rich history of the war and prison escape genres, captivating audiences of all ages with an underdog narrative of perseverance and the liberating power of choice.

The movie is at its most entertaining when it pays homage to the original movie. When a “test chicken” is used as a test subject for Fun-Land Farms’ new chicken nugget formula, her collar number reads “314”—chicken “pi”.

While Dawn of the Nugget has some fun reuniting these adorable characters in their fight against humans, it feels somewhat unnecessary. It’s a lighthearted family flick suitable for the holiday season, but it’s not as stylistically innovative, laugh-out-loud funny, or thematically moving enough to become a family classic. If the film aims to convert viewers to vegetarianism, there’s no moment too shocking or memorable to leave a lasting impression on young viewers.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is another technical marvel from Aardman Studios, but its final product is what the film’s villains fear most in their chicken nugget products: a little dry and nothing groundbreaking.


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Cast & Crew

director: Sam Fell.
writers: Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell & Rachel Tunnard (story by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell).
voices: Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Josie Sedgwick-Davies, Nick Mohammed & Miranda Richardson.