CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET Is a Visual Feast, a Narrative Famine

Lo it was, 23 years ago, that Aardman Animation followed up the massive success of its series of Wallace & Gromit short films with a full feature about poultry escaping from certain doom. It was a very clever homage to WWII POW movies, specifically The Great Escape. It even featured a crew of mostly British chickens and their lone American comrade, a rooster. It’s one of the best animated movies of all time, in my humble opinion. So to return to this story after more than two decades needed to work hard to live up to that. Visually it did. In pretty much every other way, it didn’t.

Chicken Run 2 Dawn of the Nugget reveals Molly, Ginger and Rocky's daughter, in trouble

The original movie was the culmination of almost 30 years of work by Aardman founders Peter Lord and Nick Park who’d honed their claymation style into some of the funniest and most inventive shorts ever made. Chicken Run has a pretty conventional hero’s journey narrative structure, with Ginger the chicken believing in Rocky the rooster’s ability to fly, even though he was just shot out of cannons for circuses. But hanging on that plot are really fun characters, legitimately funny jokes, and astonishingly elaborate set pieces. That they exist in a tactile, claymation world is part of the awe they inspire.

In the ensuing years, Aardman produced seven more features and several more shows and shorts. These included the Oscar-nominated Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and the unbelievably popular Shaun the Sheep franchise. All of this to say, it’s not as though Aardman needed to make a very long-lead legacy sequel other than Netflix probably shelling out a lot of money. And as I said previously, from a technical perspective, the size and scope of the film is easily the biggest they’d ever done. It’s stunning to look at. Too bad for a large portion of it I was supremely bored.

A family portrait from Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.

The movie begins seemingly weeks after the end of the first film. The escaped chickens and roosters make their new home on a small island in a stream (that is what they are) which has a thick growth of bushes to hide them from the outside world. Rocky and Ginger start a family and their daughter Molly is as brave and adventurous as her parents. For reasons only the plot can tell you, no one in the community will tell Molly why they need to stay on the island.

As such, she decides to make a break for it, only to find that the new, seemingly idyllic chicken factory isn’t what it shows on the poster. Dr. Fry and his patented chicken en-happying equipment hopes to make tastier nuggets. So Ginger, Rocky, and the rest of the characters you remember from the first movie, have to try to rescue Molly and the other chickens.

The script for Dawn of the Nugget just feels so pedestrian. It’s like someone took a cursory glance at Chicken Run and plugged in beats and lines where they think they ought to be. Have a gap in dialogue? Have dimwitted Babs say something dimwitted. Mechanical genius Mac is Scottish, so have her say something complicated in a Scottish accent that people can’t understand. Fowler is old. Like, it’s so boring and obvious. Oh, the romantic pair from the first movie have a child now in the second one? What a shocker. Everyone else is exactly the same, however, because otherwise we won’t know how to write them. One character even says “Here we go again,” for pity’s sake! That’s what characters say in bad sequels in the ’80s!

Ginger ready to pounce from a fan vent with two mice behind her in Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

It saddens me to say these things, because I do genuinely love Aardman and their output. They’ve always been at the forefront of stop-motion animation. Their films retain a handmade quality even as technology has made everything more elaborate. It felt like Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget dumbed down everything to a bog-standard family movie. Aardman should be better than that, and usually are. This one just felt too processed to be truly satisfying.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. He hosts the weekly pop culture deep-dive podcast Laser Focus. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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