Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget races for the heart. However, it runs afoul of some obstacles along the way. Though the film never falls flat on its face, the movie doesn’t fly as high as its predecessor. Consequently, this family-friendly feature full of ambitious visuals is little more than a charming distraction.
The story picks up after Chicken Run (2000). Having escaped the confines of a nightmarish farm, a group of comical chickens have settled on an idyllic island in the middle of an isolated lake. There they’ve established a quiet utopia enjoyed by everyone except for young Molly. Desperate to know the outside world her overprotective parents have hidden from her, she sneaks away. Unfortunately, she soon falls into the clutches of Mrs. Tweedy, a horrid person with a psychotic hatred for chickens. To rescue Molly as well as other cluckers, the flock from the first film must break into a state-of-the-art farm full of dangers old and new.
Since this is a sequel, it’s technically fair for filmmakers to take off right after the last movie. However, given that the original picture came out 23 years ago, the way Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget picks up is a little presumptuous. It operates as if audiences will be fully versed in these characters and their backstories. Granted, Chicken Run is the highest grossing stop-motion animated movie of all time, but Dawn of the Nugget assumes audiences don’t need to catch up with any of the characters. Consider, a person can miss An American Tail (1986) yet not get lost watching the sequel Fievel Goes West (1991).
Even as someone familiar with the first film, I found myself pausing occasionally to wonder about different chickens. Mainly, the nature of their quirks that’re supposed to facilitate jokes. However, it’s hard to imagine anyone unfamiliar with the franchise stepping in and feeling on firm ground. There’s no characterization for several roles or even a real attempt to synopsize certain chickens. In other words, Dawn of the Nugget doesn’t feel inviting for anyone other than well-versed fans of the original.
Furthermore, the first film excelled by taking audiences along on an adventure that allowed viewers to get to know the various chickens while watching them evolve into the best versions of themselves. Dawn of the Nugget is mostly pecking along a plot line from one point to the next. A few flashes of shallow insight occur, but anyone unfamiliar with the first film will be distracted wondering about various events. Sure, it doesn’t take Simon Biles to do the mental gymnastics necessary to put things together, yet connecting dots can take viewers out of the moment.
And any distractions are a shame. Visually, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is a remarkable movie. Aardman Animations have crafted an impressive assortment of topnotch stop-motion with a smidge of CGI. Despite their plasticine origins, there’s an odd realism to these cartoonish characters. Perhaps that’s thanks to subtle imperfections which avoid the uncanny valley, or the simple knowledge these puppets exist in the real world—it’s easy to be charmed and impressed by the animation.
Audiences will likely marvel at the smooth movements of many characters. The immense settings are also dazzling. From the chickens’ island hide away to the Tweedy processing plant, so much goes on in the background it’s a mind-boggling spectacle, one worth seeing at least once if only to admire the ambitious scope of certain scenes. Not to mention background details like signs or shops providing quaint gags. There’s never a sense that Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget exists outside of a living, breathing world.
The only hitch is the stylization. A lot of Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is reminiscent of the Swinging Sixties, especially spy films. It makes a kind of sense within the context of the film. The first movie was essentially a World War II escape thriller, and the sequel taking place years later slides nicely into the next cinematic espionage era. However, it begs the question who is this for? Audiences, especially children whom the movie is aimed at, aren’t likely to get many, if any, of these visual references. That said, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget remains colorful and stylistically amusing throughout.
Not much of the original cast returned. Mel Gibson wasn’t invited to reprise Rocky due to his various displays of bigotry. Meanwhile, Julia Sawalha, who originally voiced Ginger, was replaced by Thandiwe Newton. The decision to cast a younger replacement resulted in accusations of ageism. Still, the replacements do well enough on occasions their roles have anything to say.
Too often there’s nothing for anyone to discuss except for whatever drives the plot forward. Peripheral characters like Babs, Bunty, Mac, and Fowler tend to solely be there for punchlines, while main roles like Ginger and Molly infrequently get the shallowest character-driven dialogue. Zachary Levi as Rocky does little for the performance. His voice lacks enough expression to make lines tonally distinct; they all sound the same. Thandiwe Newton does an excellent job as Ginger, but it makes the lack of character exploration all the more frustrating. Bella Ramsey and Josie Sedgwick-Davies are fabulous as Molly and Frizzle. Both have a comedic charm and optimistic naivety that makes their characters instantly likeable.Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is a visually impressive film from start to finish. In that respect, director Sam Fell has orchestrated a fine feature. However, the screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell, and Rachel Tunnard lacks any of the character depth or thematic exploration which made the first movie a multi-faceted marvel. Furthermore, it almost requires audiences to see the first before the sequel which will only cause disappointment by comparison.
At the end of the day, Dawn of the Nugget is a tad underdone. Cookie cutter characters delivering mildly amusing jokes drag down a visually stunning animated feature. Families seeking something fresh may appreciate the option, but the first film is better.