You’d be forgiven if your first reaction to a Chicken Run sequel 23 years after the groundbreaking original was a confused one. Forget its muted release on Netflix approximately a week away from Christmas; it’s somewhat surprising that the highest grossing stop motion film failed to spawn a sequel until the kids who went to see the original were well into the age of getting married, making mortgage payments, and perhaps too busy keeping their lives afloat to notice its existence.
Maybe the audience for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget are the children of those who recall being entertained, if slightly scared, by the original film, which somewhat realistically portrayed the life of chickens bred to be killed and consumed. By comparison, Dawn of the Nugget is a sweetly simple sequel, not without a harrowing moment or two, but one that fails to match the original film’s humor and ingenuity. Maybe more disappointing is it feels like a phoned-in effort from the usually trustworthy storytellers at Aardman Animation, who have gifted us such gems like Shaun the Sheep Movie and Wallace & Gromit.
Assuming the chickens from the first Chicken Run movie have stuck around for 23 years is a stretch, but Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget at least picks up a few years after the events of Ginger (voiced by Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (Zachary Levi) spearheaded an escape from Tweedy’s Chicken Farm. In the present, the chickens now live on a remote island, free from butchers like Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and kept full and stocked by their rodent friends (Daniel Mays and David Bradley).
All’s well until Molly (Bella Ramsey), the 11-year-old daughter of Ginger and Rocky, begins asking questions about the mainland, a place she so desperately wants to visit. This happens around the time construction workers arrive on the island, ostensibly to build another farm. Molly finds herself back on land and inside a massive factory farm that looks to revolutionize the concept of the chicken nugget by making sure the birds are as happy as possible before they are sliced, diced, mashed, and made into fast food available near you. Unlike its predecessor, Dawn of the Nugget involves Ginger and Rocky now having to break into a chicken farm in order to save their daughter and the rest of chicken-kind.
While watching Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, my mind circled back to Super Size Me 2, a sequel you probably didn’t know existed. With the subtitle “Holy Chicken!,” documentarian Morgan Spurlock doubled-back to the cross-examination of fast food that made him famous by zeroing in on the industry’s then-recent preoccupation with chicken products. One of the doc’s focuses was on the nebulous terms used in chicken marketing (“Free-range chickens!” “No added hormones!”). Elements of this sequel that toy with the flattering idea that a happier chicken with a few more inches of plush grass on which to roam makes for a healthier, more ethical meat, while at the end of the day, the bird still has to go through an unenviable maiming process.
But there’s something about this outing with our recognizable chicken friends that just doesn’t feel quite the same. Maybe it’s the lack of the darker edge that made Chicken Run a distinctly different breed of animation for my generation. Or it’s the change in voice actors, with Zachary Levi giving a less-inspired version of Rocky the once-high-flying circus chicken that was somehow brought to life in a far more enthusiastic manner by Mel Gibson.
For one, the comedy within the film doesn’t consistently land, and often inspires nods as opposed to chuckles. The Aardman brand of humor has always been old-fashioned compared to its Disney and Pixar counterparts, finding a lot of humor in both British culture and vaudevillian sensibilities. I also wonder if the advances in claymation are part of the film’s detriment. Dawn of the Nugget looks and moves far more like a full-blown work of CGI than the rubbery, spongey aesthetic inherent to clay that was fully on display not only in the first Chicken Run, but in those timeless Wallace & Gromit shorts.
Mix all those ingredients together with a slightly longer runtime and amusing but markedly duller sight gags, and you have a sequel that is comparable to pre-white meat McDonald’s McNuggets (the ones who grew up with the original Chicken Run will know what I’m getting at).
NOTE: Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Voiced by: Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Josie Sedgwick-Davies, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Mohammed, and Miranda Richardson. Directed by: Sam Fell.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!