Aardman Animations had an international box office smash at the beginning of this century with much-loved stop-motion comedy Chicken Run, in which flightless feathered heroes spoofed Animal Farm and The Great Escape by making a thrilling break for freedom. Now comes the sequel, in the sleek new computer-animated style into which Aardman transitioned a few years after its 2000 hit; it is based on the original look of the action figures, but maybe with less of their folksy, real-world charm.
This follow-up is cowritten by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and directed by Sam Fell, with some cheeky nods to The Lion King, The Truman Show and Toy Story 3; it’s sweet and likable, with one or two showstopper gags. The one about asking someone at the wheel of a vehicle what gear he’s in deserves to be printed on gold leaf. But some of the time I found the proceedings a little bit generic, like something you might put on an iPad to keep kids quiet, even if that is a noble enough aim.
The married chickens at the centre of the first movie are back, older and placidly content in what appears to be an Edenic, self-governing rural chicken community: Ginger (voiced by Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (voiced by Zachary Levi). Now they have a teen daughter Molly (voiced by Bella Ramsey) who is restless and rebellious – qualities that Ginger uneasily realises Molly has inherited from her – and, like Simba, wants to know what happens at the distant rise beyond the northern border.
Molly’s interest is in a far-off piece of land where what seems to be an inviting-looking company is running something to do with chickens. Rashly, she defies her parents’ orders, goes out to explore and winds up befriending Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), a sparky Scouse chicken who inveigles Molly into infiltrating this company with her because she thinks it looks pretty cool.
Soon they find themselves instead in a strange holiday world for chickens under a blue sky cyclorama dome where everyone has a blank, hypnotised smile. Could it be that the evil agribusiness magnate Mrs Tweedy (voiced by Miranda Richardson) is still around? Does she have a creepy plan to subdue chickens into lobotomised happiness because terrified chickens at the point of death clench up and don’t taste very nice? Ginger, Rocky and their pals have to break into this chicken farm and pull off a daring rescue, before their daughter turns into a bucket of nuggets.
Some of the time, this new Chicken Run has the same flaw as the newer Pixar movies: a sense that the film could almost have been algorithmically fabricated through AI, especially here in the opening act. Well, the gags puncture that and a lively voice cast including Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks and Imelda Staunton provide energy and fun.
• Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget screened at the London film festival and is released on 15 December on Netflix.