Whenever a studio releases a sequel 23 years after the original movie, it’s fair to go in with some skepticism about the project, its intentions, and its quality. When Chicken Run was released in the year 2000, there was a farm fresh feel to it that resonated both with its target audience, but also with any accompanying adults. It was fun and silly, paying homage to The Great Escape via clay chickens. It captured the imagination with impeccable voice acting, genuine tension, and a litany of riotous gags suited for the whole family. Hell, Chicken Run has even been lauded for its feminism and how it utilizes stereotypical female tropes (knitting, for example) to ultimately save the day. Twenty-three years on, that fun, that style, that resonance, that sheer ingenuity is sadly nowhere to be found in its successor, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.
Following their successful escape from the Tweedy’s chicken farm at the conclusion of the previous film, our favorite avians have settled on a small island, forming a kind of chicken sanctuary. Ginger (Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (Zachary Levi) rule the roost with an open hand, alongside their daughter Molly (Bella Ramsey) and the same varied cast of characters from the prior film — the ornery but aging drill sergeant, the pair of rats with a trick or two up their sleeves, the Scottish hen with an eye for science, and so on. When free-spirit Molly absconds from the island for a taste of freedom after learning about her father’s exploits, she becomes wrapped up in the latest attempt at fast-food world domination from a returning Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson), leaving it up to the gang to rescue her, her new friend Frizzle, as well as all the other chickens, from the dangers of industrial farming.
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The key issue with Dawn of the Nugget is that it simultaneously feels all too similar to the original and also misses the mark on what made it such a treasured film. A fair amount of the cast is replaced, some for understandable reasons, some for… less understandable reasons. Levi replaces Mel Gibson, and while there’s certainly a logic to removing the latter from a film like this, Levi fails to deliver on the role and his voicework feels staggeringly flat. The same goes for the typically excellent Thandiwe Newton, who replaces Julia Sawalha from the first film seemingly for no other reason than she’s slightly younger. Bella Ramsey does an admirable job at the heart of things, but the lack of chemistry among the voice work holds the film back before it has even begun. Voice acting is an artform in itself, and it isn’t unusual to hear screen actors struggle with the adjustment. The verve and charm that felt so tangible in the performances of 2000’s Chicken Run feels otherworldly compared to the relatively mundane performances of Aardman Animations’ latest offering.
And the wider plot of the film feels so undercooked that you may get salmonella just from watching it. The wonderful Great Escape homages have been replaced by a poor attempt at satirizing the Mission: Impossible franchise, and it just feels unoriginal. Whereas the first film was a genuinely bold step for animation, Dawn of the Nugget is overcooked. The chickens get themselves into a situation, then have to escape. Rinse. Repeat. The film picks up briefly with the return of Mrs. Tweedy who, thankfully, is voiced by the returning Miranda Richardson, giving the film a much-needed boost, but even her villainous antics can’t salvage the messy plot.
Even visually, it’s hard to see how Dawn of the Nugget stands apart from its predecessor. With 23 years between films, and countless advancements in animation since the original, it’s not unfair to expect that the sequel should look more polished. But outside of one or two shots, an explosive set piece towards the end, and an overall color palette that brings a bit more brightness to proceedings, Dawn of the Nugget could easily be mistaken for a stop motion film made in the year 2000.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is, after all, a children’s film. But is it? Do kids really want to see clay chickens causing mayhem? It seems more likely that over two decades on, Dawn of the Nugget is closer to a nostalgia trip aimed at people with fond memories of the original. The problem is, the film fails to improve upon the original. What should’ve been a major coup for Netflix, and audiences at large, comes off as a rank revival that will only sully the memory of a British classic.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget debuted at the BFI London Film Festival and will hit Netflix on December 15.
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