Review: Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget Revisits a Stop-Motion Animation Classic for a New Generation

Easily one of the most reliable and joyful animation houses functioning today, Aardman Animations delivers a sequel to one of its most beloved works, 2000’s Chicken Run (the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time). That film dealt with a group of farm animals (mostly chickens) plotting an escape to avoid being turned into someone’s dinner. This time around, with Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, the flock must break into a chicken nuggets processing plant run by the same villainous Mrs. Tweedy (a returning Miranda Richardson) to stop the whole-sale slaughter of their kind, with a similar, comedic, action-movie vibe and loads of feathery charm.

A few things have changed in 23 years. While a handful of voice actors do return (Richardson, Jane Horrocks as Babs, Imelda Staunton as Bunty), most of the primary cast has changed, including the voices of leads Rocky (Zachary Levi, thankfully taking over from Mel Gibson), Ginger (Thandiwe Newton), and Fowler (David Bradley). Perhaps the most welcome addition to the cast of characters is Rocky and Ginger’s daughter Molly (voiced by The Last of Us star Bella Ramsey). Molly has a fiercely independent spirit, one that gets her and everyone else into heaps of trouble before too long. All of the escaped chickens from the first film now live on a hidden island, and after years of relative peace, they spot a structure on the mainland that appears to be a virtual playground for chickens.

Naturally, Molly is intrigued and sneaks off the island to investigate. Before long, she bumps into another chicken, Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies) with the same idea, and the pair make their way to this seeming paradise. Since Molly’s parents never wanted to worry their daughter, they've also never let her know that humans have a tendency to eat chickens. So she’s never once suspicious about this too-good-to-be-true facility that features everything a playful chicken could want, but also has layers of security that they think is to keep people (and chickens) out, but is actually the best way to keep them in.

After Molly and Frizzle manage to sneak in, they soon realize that all of the other seemingly happy chickens have collars around their necks and are being mind controlled by an unseen force, Reginald Smith (Peter Serafinowicz), who works for Tweedy, who in turn is planning to sell her uniquely produced nuggets to fast food chain Dr. Fry, represented by a steely-eyed rep (Nick Mohammed). Ginger and Rocky must overcome their fears of destroying their secret existence to save their daughter, and the whole gang is there to help, including a pair of resourceful rats, Nick and Fetcher (Romesh Ranganathan and Daniel Mays).

Directed by Sam Fell (ParaNorman, Flushed Away), Dawn of the Nugget is an absolute hoot with humor aimed squarely in that perfect intersection between children and adults appreciating most of the same jokes and references, with maybe an edge given to grown-up viewers. The ideas on display in the factory are wild, slightly sadistic, and wholly original—the perfect combination to avoid the usual trappings of most family-targeted animated works. Aside from Levi (who’s pretty much just playing Levi), the rest of the vocal cast is doing extraordinary work. I especially loved Bradley’s Fowler, who plays the aging character like a WWII veteran who knows a thing or two about surveillance and escape plans. He’s basically doing the Major from Fawlty Towers, and it lands in every scene he’s in.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for all things Aardman; Creature Comforts, Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit were building blocks in my appreciation for stop-motion animation. But this Chicken Run sequel runs a lot deeper than simple nostalgia mining or cash grabbing from a beloved film. It’s a genuine treat of a movie, with actual thought put into its story of a family coming together and risking everything for those they love.

The film is now in theaters and streaming on Netflix beginning December 15.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.