Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget revisits Claymation classic
Of all the animation studios out there, Aardman Animations may just be the most impressive. That’s because, for almost 50 years, they have continued to produce extraordinary work using clay animation (or Claymation), a labor-intensive process that involves manually moving everything in a particular scene. In doing so, a day of filming can result in mere seconds of usable footage.
So getting a new Aardman film, like the new Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, is always a cause for celebration just because of the effort it took to bring it to the screen. The film - a sequel to Aardman’s first-ever feature film, 2000’s Chicken Run – returns to visit Ginger (Thandiwe Newton), Rocky (Zachary Levi), and all of the other chickens who escaped from Mrs. Tweedy’s (Miranda Richardson) farm at the end of the first film.
Now living on a protected island, most of the chickens are content with their new life, except for Ginger and Rocky’s daughter, Molly (Bella Ramsey), who’s never been able to explore the world. Seeing ads for seemingly happy chickens at Fun-Land Farms, Molly secretly journeys to the mainland, only to discover a devious scheme to turn chickens into nuggets. Ginger, Rocky, and the rest of the flock must band together to save Molly, and maybe more.
First, the good news: The animation technique remains as astonishing as ever. There are truly no seams showing in any second of the film, and some of the best moments are also the simplest ones. At one point, a chicken eats a cookie, and knowing that everything we’re seeing is clay, the crumbs falling from her mouth feel like they’re defying the laws of physics.
The story has some of Aardman’s usual charms, but there seems to be something missing. The plot has flipped the script – instead of breaking out of a chicken farm, they’re breaking into one – but the sense of adventure is not as consistent this time around. The group is separated for much of the film, so even though they’re all moving toward the same goal, the one-for-all, all-for-one spirit is diminished.
Fans who have been watching the original film for almost 25 years may or may not enjoy that the various characters have barely changed. It’s one thing to remind viewers of the personality traits of the members of the group, but if you don’t evolve them in some way, they’re just doing the same thing over and over again. Consequently, instead of big laughs, jokes only elicit knowing chuckles.
There’s also the fact that many of the voice actors have inexplicably been changed. One – changing Rocky from Mel Gibson to Levi – is understandable, but Levi doesn’t give the character the same depth. There seems to be no reason to change Ginger from character actor Julia Sawalha to Newton other than to add a little more star power to the project. Other changes are less noticeable, but they make the acting less interesting in general.
Such is the standard of Aardman that even though Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget might be considered heads and tail feathers above some other animated films, it doesn’t compare favorably to the studio’s best work. The animation they’re able to produce is still wondrous, but everything surrounding it is not nearly as enthralling.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is now streaming on Netflix.