Sequels which live up to much-loved originals are as rare as hens’ teeth. Strangely, however, Aardman chickens boast impressive gnashers: they were on show in the original Chicken Run and, 23 years later, they’re as plentiful and as white as ever in Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget. But to say that means this long-awaited follow-up is on a par with the first film would be something of a stretch.
Rocky, the Lone Free Ranger, the adventurous Ginger, pompous Fowler, the joyously vague Babs and a host of other stop-motion chooks captured the nation’s heart back in 2000 as they escaped from the clutches of chicken farmers, Mr and Mrs Tweedy, and found peace and happiness on a remote island. Aardman’s original animation was an exciting and consistently funny parody of war movies, especially The Great Escape and The Colditz Story, and rapidly became a family favourite, so the question of a sequel went unanswered for years. But now, a generation later, the team are back, only this time they’re not breaking out – they’re breaking in. Now their target is a high-tech factory making chicken nuggets and their mission is to rescue the birds destined to be chopped up and covered in breadcrumbs.
The premise, then, is very familiar and initially the narrative feels much the same. But then it takes a decidedly Mission Impossible turn – with a hint of Bond thrown in for good measure. The factory has a real MI look about it, the soundtrack has those legendary beats and the chickens are clearly doing all their own stunts. No green screen for them. And, while it may not be quite as sharp a parody as before, it certainly works, has a broad appeal and is generally a good fit. Yet, just as suddenly, director Sam Fell chickens out, abandoning it in favour of a re-run of the first film, soundtrack, storyline et al. You’ll come out of the film with the same triumphant theme in your head, but also with a feeling that somewhere along the line it lost sight of what it wanted to be.
Many of the original characters return with new voices – Zachary Levi (sounding remarkably like Ryan Reynolds) takes over from Mel Gibson as Rocky, David Bradley is the perfect replacement for the late Benjamin Whitrow as the old buffer, Fowler – while others remain the same. Jane Horrocks is still Babs and has most of the best lines, even if some of them don’t match up to her previous dislike of gravy or not wanting to be a pie. The main new character is Molly, daughter of Rocky and Ginger, with Bella Ramsey adding energetic voice acting to her already impressive CV.
It doesn’t have the same magic as the original, it’s true, but Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget is still a hugely enjoyable piece of family entertainment. Its sense of direction may be wobbly and the cheeky sight gags that made the first outing such a joy are sorely missed, but there’s plenty of quips and puns, plus a genuine sense of energy and fun. Netflix look to have a hit Christmas film on their hands this year – you’ll need Disney+ if you want to do the double bill – but whether this follow-up has the staying power of the first is open to question. Eggs-pectations will be high!
Animation, Comedy | London Film Festival, 14 October 2023. Netflix,15 December 2023 | Netflix | Certificate: PG | Dir. Sam Fell | The voices of Zachary Levi, Thandiwe Newton, Bella Ramsey, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson.