Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget: an endearing second helping of fowl play

The long-awaited Chicken Run sequel is at its best when it lets that handcrafted Aardman charm shine.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (2023)

Which came first, Aardman’s genuine desire to hatch more Chicken Run stories, or the Netflix-harnessed urge to belatedly cash in on a cinematic nest egg? Everyone’s favourite British stop-motion animators have to date only released one theatrical sequel – Farmageddon (2019) following Shaun the Sheep (2015); so, the studio’s return to the plucky, feathered heroines (plus a couple of roosters) from their 2000 debut, big-screen release a whole generation later could be their own hazardous version of playing movie chicken.

Dawn of the Nugget deftly gets new audiences up to speed with previous events, picking up soon after Rocky, Ginger and company’s prison break from the murderous Mrs. Tweedy’s farm. The chickens, now including Rocky and Ginger’s intrepid daughter Molly, still inhabit an island idyll, away from dangerous humans. Molly, however, has her mother’s independent streak and wants to venture further afield. She’s particularly enticed by distant vans emblazoned with the ‘Fun-Land Farm’ logo of happy hens and sets out to investigate. Naturally, ‘Fun-Land’ is another poultry prison, looking to serve up captive birds as fast food. This time, then, the chickens are going to have to break in, to bust Molly out.

Made in collaboration with DreamWorks, Chicken Run, adding Mel Gibson’s A-list star vocals, definitely courted Hollywood but still managed to maintain Aardman’s lovingly handcrafted, satirically provincial charms. The sequel targets a similar tone, but there’s something in the blend of computer-generated and traditional stop-motion here that gives the film a slicker, modern sheen and a less distinctive look compared to earlier Aardman classics.

This extends to the rudimentary plotting, which trades its predecessor’s Great Escape-esque antics for not just Mission: Impossible-style set-pieces, but also vintage Pixar’s inter-generational family clashes and clinches – notably the Finding Nemo / Toy Story rescue missions. There’s no shame in borrowing from the best, but no great originality either.

When the film plays to its homegrown strengths, though, there’s much to enjoy. Veteran animation director Sam Fell (Flushed Away, 2006) keeps the action sequences sprightly. There’s an inspired visual gag involving popcorn and a firework and some trademark, endearingly silly puns and wordplay. The voice cast all engage, even when certain replacements range from understandable (Zachary Levi replacing Gibson) to inexplicable (Thandiwe Newton for Julia Sawalha).

Aardman, indeed stop-motion, connoisseurs might leave feeling hungry for a more intricate story and tactile style, but most family audiences will likely be sated by this late-breaking, second helping of fowl play.

► Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget screened at the 2023 London Film Festival; it arrives on Netflix 15 December.