Manchester Animation Festival at HOME cinema was in full swing last week with people coming from all across the country to watch new and special screenings. I was very fortunate to attend the Gala Screening of Aardman‘s latest feature film Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. Twenty-three years after the original movie was released, Ginger, Rocky, Babs and the rest of the flock are back for another action-packed adventure, but instead of breaking out, they’re breaking in. This family-friendly action comedy is the perfect new release to watch over the Christmas holidays.
Chicken Run was Aardman’s first feature film and paved the way for clay and stop-motion animation around the world. At the time, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature did not exist, but it’s fair to say that Chicken Run definitely would have been a contender if it had. It remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film in history and stands with a whopping 97% score on the Tomatometer.
But how does the sequel stack up against it? Currently, it’s received 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, however, it hasn’t yet been released to the general public so we’re still waiting on an audience score. It has garnered largely positive reviews from critics with 5 stars from the Telegraph, 4 from Digital Spy, and 3 from the Guardian. The main criticism seems to be the decision to recast most of the voice actors, with Ginger, Rocky, Nick, Fetcher, and Fowler all being voiced by new actors.
Personally, I thought Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi did an excellent job in the lead roles bringing the characters to life, as did Bella Ramsey as the duo’s teenage daughter Molly and Miranda Richardson as a Bond villain-esque Mrs Tweedy. Since the film’s change in director from the duo Nick Park and Peter Lord to Sam Fell, I’d argue that Digital Spy‘s view that it “might be halted from being a perfect sequel” is a harsh take, but perhaps diehard fans will feel differently.
The Gala Screening also featured an introduction by Aardman co-founder Peter Lord and a talk by director and animator Suzy Fagan Parr. She revealed that the film from start to finish was the product of 6 years of work with shooting alone taking 18 months. Sticking to their roots, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget mostly uses Aardman’s trademark clay stop motion animation, but they did use this in combination with CG animation for certain scenes. As aptly put by Fagan Parr, this is where “engineering meets artistry”.
The story was brought to life by 50 animators who hand-crafted the set and most of the character puppets. Fagan Parr also described animation on this scale as being comparable to a live performance since 97% of shots were filmed on the first take. It was evident that the crew poured their heart into the film, working for over half a decade on it, despite setbacks from the pandemic and the fact that they undertook the task nearly twenty years after the original film’s release. Listening to Lord and Fagan Parr talk so passionately about their work certainly made me re-evaluate my appreciation for animation.
I have to take issue with the Guardian‘s review which says the sequel “could almost have been algorithmically fabricated through AI,” as I did not feel that the film reflected this at all. The plot was strong albeit somewhat predictable (as with most family PG-rated films), the jokes had the audience laughing out loud, and the animation was brilliant. Even if you weren’t a massive Chicken Run fan the first time around, I’d urge you to give the sequel a try over the holidays as I thoroughly enjoyed it for some light-hearted fun.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget will be available to stream on Netflix from 15 December 2023.