Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | December 14th, 2023
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (Sam Fell, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Mel Gibson and Julia Sawalha may be gone as the voices of Rocky and Ginger, but the new sequel to Aardman Animation’s 2000 Chicken Run—entitled Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget—still has occasional spunk, if not as much as its predecessor. Now featuring the talents of Zachary Levi (Shazam!) and Thandiwe Newton (All the Old Knives) as the returning lead characters, the story adds their daughter to the mix, a rambunctious teenager named Molly (Bella Ramsey, Catherine Called Birdy). Her rebellious shenanigans land everyone in trouble, with comic misadventures the inevitable aftermath. Like the titular treat, it’s fairly tasty, if not all that nutritious.
The chickens definitely come first, followed by the egg, which soon hatches young Molly. Ginger has led her fellow poultry away from the farm of the first installment to an isolated island in the middle of a lake, where everyone lives in peace and prosperity. Until, that is, when Molly hits adolescence and spies the world across the water and decides it’s worth a visit. This coincides with the arrival of trucks bearing images of happy hens on their way to nirvana. Who wouldn’t want to run after them?
Molly’s surreptitious departure leads to panic and a subsequent chase, Ginger and Rocky reluctantly diving back into capers they once thought far behind them. At least one new friend is made along the way, and an old enemy is rediscovered. And though there is explicit danger in store for our characters—courtesy of a nasty machine that quickly transforms a chicken into roasted nuggets—we somehow always know it will work out. The bright colors and jaunty pace keep even the worst scenario from feeling too awful.
And therein lies part of the problem, if problem it is (probably not if you are a young child, in which case, no harm … no fowl). As enjoyable as the antics often are, there’s a palpable calm about the entire affair. We know nothing truly bad can happen, so high stakes notwithstanding, we never fully engage with the onscreen hysteria. That’s partly also because of the almost too-relaxed performances from Newton and Levi. It’s like watching a late-in-the-season presentation of a long-running theater production. Everyone needs just a little more caffeine.
Still, the stop-motion animation—Aardman’s trademark—is beautiful. Many of the visual jokes land, as well. Director Sam Fell (ParaNorman) moves things along from scene to scene without a hitch, if sometimes without much tension. It was a hardly a necessary sequel to what was a pretty terrific original, but it does no harm to the initial premise and has enough clever new ideas to hold our interest. You might want to hold off on that run to Chick-fil-A, KFC, or Popeye’s for a bit, however. That just wouldn’t be right.