EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget might not exist.
Back in 2000, the stop-motion hit Chicken Run kicked off the new millennium with a bang, earning $225m at the box office, an all-time high for stop-motion animation. Can a long-awaited sequel from Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park and Aardman Animations co-founder Pete Lord do the original justice? Netflix has released a new teaser trailer for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, set to premiere at London Film Festival this fall and on the streaming service platform in December, this time with a new set of actors voicing the beloved claymation galliformes.
Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi now lead the cast in the roles of Rocky and Ginger, respectively, those characters voiced previously by Julia Sawalha and Mel Gibson. Sawalha stated in 2020 that she had been told her voice was “too old” to continue the role. Dawn of the Nugget will also star Bella Ramsey (The Last of Us) as Molly, Rocky and Ginger’s daughter in a new role. Also new to the voice cast are Ramesh Ranganathan and Nick Mohammed (Ted Lasso), while Imelda Staunton, Jane Horrocks, and Lynn Ferguson reprise their roles from the original.
When we last saw the cast of Chicken Run more than two decades ago, the beloved characters had finally escaped from the post-WWII egg-farm/prisoner-of-war camp ruled with an iron fist by the evil Mrs. Tweedy and her lackey husband. The rebellious Ginger and her American rooster boyfriend Rocky managed a Great Escape-like flight from what had looked like certain pot-pie doom at the hands of their captors, whom they left in a giant ball of exploded gravy. Safely ensconced on a tropical island, the now-freed Ginger and Rocky looked ready to kindle their romance in paradise.
Employing the crude, claymation stop-motion style Park first made famous with the Wallace and Gromit shorts, Chicken Run captured the imagination of millions with its sly humor, expert timing, and adroit spinning of escape-movie tropes. Though painstaking to create—it took roughly a full week’s work to create just one minute of screentime—its rough-around-the-edges technique matched the story’s slapstick humor perfectly, giving the kids an exciting story with cute characters and the parents plenty of old-movie references to enjoy. Somehow, the story of clay chickens using their wits to escape a system geared to enslaving their labor for capitalist gain struck a chord with viewers. For all its crude charm, Chicken Run was surely more than just a run-of-the-mill kids’ movie.
Whether or not Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget can equal its predecessor’s wit and charm, or whether it has anything to say about the revolution of the proletariat, is anyone’s guess. The sequel will, like the original, follow its plucky protagonist Ginger as she looks to build a safe haven for her new family far away from the dangers of the human world. But it’s one she’s drawn back to.
“Last time we broke out of a chicken farm. Well, this time, we’re breaking in,” says Ginger to start the teaser, its high-tech imagery suggesting Dawn of the Nugget will trade more in the vein of a Mission Impossible-style caper film, replete with grappling hooks, security cameras and fences, ventilation-system reconnaissance, camera-driven gun-toting moles, and laser-guided exploding ducks. (And in case you weren’t getting the visual references, one chicken tells another “It’s an impossible mission.”)
Once Ginger, Rocky, and their friends breach the exterior of the facility, they’re met with a new-old threat. “Now that you’ve had the appetizer, it’s time for the main course,” intones the still-alive Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) in a pan-from-the-ground villain reveal. “Welcome to the future!” Where the original took place in a post-WWII Yorkshire chicken-pie factory, one the look of the film took pains to create with a muddy, grimy mise-en-scene, the design of Dawn of the Nugget is all high-tech sheen. Even the characters look a little less clay and a lot more CGI.
While it’s likely Ginger, Rocky, their daughter Molly, and their friends are likely to survive Mrs. Tweedy and her evil compound once again, it’s anyone’s guess whether the sequel will capture the hearts of millions of fans like Chicken Run did 23 years ago. Fans of Julia Sawalha are already upset that the actor wasn’t rehired to voice her beloved Ginger character; for the record, her replacement, Newton, is just four years Sawalha’s junior. The relocating of the film’s setting and tropes from the imprisonment-and-escape genre to the new high-tech “welcome to the future” setting may be less of a perfect match for the Park-Lord animation style. And further, whether that style retains its singular low-tech charm in the Netflix sequel remains to be seen.
Directed by Sam Fell, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Future will debut at this year’s London Film Festival on October 14, 2023, with additional screenings across the UK before the film’s global launch on the streaming platform December 15.