The amazing minds at Aardman Animations think outside the coop for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, a fitting follow-up to the studio’s early 2000s hit although this sequel is so-so at best.
The flock of escapees from Mrs. Tweedy’s farm find refuge on an island where the chickens have built their own self-sufficient community. Freedom fighter Ginger (now voiced by Thandiwe Newton, formally of TV’s Westworld) and retired circus performer Rocky (now voiced by Zachary Levi of Spy Kids: Armageddon) now have a daughter, Molly (Bella Ramsey of TVs The Last of Us), and her curiousity can’t be tethered. Striking similar chords from the Croods series, Molly is intrigued by across the water; especially when she spots a truck depicting happy chickens on the side of its cargo. After devising her own path to sneak out, Molly finds herself inside that truck that ends up transporting her to a strange factory filled with emotionally stagnant chickens. They’re all beaming with happiness in their Squid Game-esque playground, but only because they’re clueless to what’s really going on. Meanwhile, Ginger and Rocky, along with other familiar farm cohorts, track down the factory in an attempt to break their daughter out.
The filmmakers and technicians at Aardman, as usual, are sensibility clever. The first half of Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget exhibit many visual gags that are funny and wholesome through identified clumsiness. Whether we’re watching young Molly stumble around tree branches or her parents stammer through their parental panic, the film showcases preceptive humour and finely animated craftsmanship. Where Chicken Run drew its creativity from 1963’s The Great Escape, the sequel finds inspiration in the popular Mission: Impossible film series, and reflects that admiration through the entertaining main break-in.
Once the chickens are within the bounds of the factory, however, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nuggest becomes a lot less interesting. Though the filmmakers still find ways to draw out soft giggles from the viewer, the overall presentation starts to lose its distinction. The villains, reunions and retreads of the original baddies, lack characterization despite having very prominent designs. As well, the sharp and metallic design of the factory makes this uncharted environment fairly unmemorable – it’s missing a personality too.
Along with the release of this Chicken Run sequel, Netflix has simultaneously released a behind-the-scenes featurette, The Making of Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. While the sneak peek is worth checking out, it unintentionally suggests how animation breakthroughs may have hijacked the focus of this flick. For instance, it appears that animating a complicated sequence where someone walks down the stairs with attitude was more important than that character’s motivation. Aardman takes pride in its animation, as they should, but they also need to have their eye on how their narrative should flow. Not since The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a swashbuckling adventure that veered off towards a lesson about Charles Darwin, have we seen the studio slip up this bizarrely.
While I appreciate what Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget was able to achieve 23 years after its predecessor, Aardman should be returning to “the basics”, such as the expressive minimalism of their fantastic Shaun the Sheep film series.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie