Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget: Aardman Makes a Welcome Return to Stop-Motion Animation

The rumours of Aardman’s demise — the animation studio, not anyone with that surname — have been somewhat exaggerated. Understandable as Aardman released its last original production, Early Man, five years ago. The all-but-forgotten Early Man had little of the seismic commercial or cultural impact of its dynamic duo, Wallace & Gromit (the former, a cheese-obsessed human inventor, the latter, an ultra-intelligent canine, loyal friend, and companion), or the studio’s breakout hit stateside, Chicken Run, at the turn of the millennium.

While Wallace & Gromit fans will have to continue patiently waiting for their next and possibly last big-screen adventure, Aardman fans can enjoy the next-best alternative, a sequel to Chicken Run, which is aptly, not to mention mention cheekily, titled Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. The title’s true meaning, however, doesn’t become clear until well after the halfway point of the sequel, so it’s best for audiences to discover it themselves.

Until then, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget hums along at a pleasantly engaging clip, reintroducing its two central characters, Ginger (voiced by Thandiwe Newton), the de facto leader of the fowls who made a great escape from a prison camp-like chicken farm, and Rocky (Zachary Levi), a burly, one-time circus performer and Ginger’s significant other (fowl). They enjoy the collective fruits of their labour, a pre-industrial sanctuary built on an island. Everyone works for the common good, everyone has more than enough to eat, and everyone has more than enough protection from the elements to live happily.

The fowl sanctuary not so subtly represents a socialist utopia, but as with all utopias, it’s not meant to last, especially not when a new lakeside road appears almost overnight, portending something far worse than a mid-century chicken farm: an industrial factory, Fun-Land Farms, dedicated to the proposition that the only good chicken is a chicken dissembled and converted into delicious, bite-sized meals for families. Kitted out like the mountain-carved lair of a James Bond villain from the super-spy’s initial ’60s run — with a generous nod to Bond’s principal production designer, Ken Adam — the factory contains all manner of high-tech security gizmos meant to keep the chickens in and outsiders out.

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As relatively protective parents, Ginger and Rocky have little interest in venturing outside the confines of their home island. However, when their rebelliously curious teen Molly (Bella Ramsey) rejects their concerns for safety as silly and unwarranted, she ventures into the world. She also promptly gets captured. Ginger, Rocky, and a supporting cast of fowl-related returnees from the 2000 film including Bunty (Imelda Staunton), Mac (Lynn Ferguson), Fowler (David Bradley), and Babs (Jane Horrocks), plus rodent siblings Nick (Romesh Ranganathan) and Fetcher (Daniel Mays), agree to set aside their concerns for safety and rescue Molly before it’s too late.

The world that Molly and her newfound friend, Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), uncover when they enter the electrified gates of Fun-Land Farms initially appears to give their permanent guests what they want: bucketfuls of feed and endless playtime. That particular version of dystopia (free food, no work) proves, of course, to be an illusion, an Island-inspired way station where chickens are fed to be fattened, anaesthetized to reality by sophisticated electronic collars created by the factory’s resident inventor, Dr. Fry (Nick Mohammed), and expire offscreen, out of sight and out of mind.

Switching inspirations from WWII prison camp films (The Great Escape, Stalag 17) to a more contemporary Mission: Impossible/The Incredibles flavor, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget finds Ginger, Rocky, and crew breaking into the factory farm before they can break out. That, in turn, sets the stage for a steady procession of typically ingenious, elaborately inventive set pieces and more than enough onscreen peril for audiences on the other side of the screen to once again root for Ginger, Rocky, and company to make a second great escape.

Narratively speaking, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget doesn’t exactly reinvent the cheese wheel, but what it does, from the aforementioned set pieces (bigger and bolder than before) to the reliance on tried-and-true Brit humor, and to a story about a community coming together to save one of its own, the film does well, sometimes even spectacularly so.

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Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is now on Netflix.



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