Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (dir. Sam Fell)
By: Adam Freed
Greatness in film animation has, like most genres, undergone an evolutionary process allowing for multiple eras to enjoy their individual moments in the sun. First was the hand drawn Disney era, spanning from pre war America through the end of the Reagan administration. With minimal transitional overlap, Japan’s Studio Ghibli took the critical and artistic throne for nearly a decade prior to the Disney / Pixar marriage that came to dominate the modern animation landscape. Rarely in this lineage is there mention of stop motion animation and its impact on the genre’s evolution. The 21st century standard by which greatness is measured is the Academy Award for best animated feature, which only came into existence in 2001 in the wake of one of Oscar’s greatest oversights the year prior. Chicken Run (2000) initiated a shock wave of UK and global support in its pursuit of a best picture nomination. The film, with its sweeping score, stop motion brilliance, and thematic sentimentality released to mass critical appeal. The Academy however took a pass on the film, leading to outrage. In the wake of the glaring oversight, The Academy Awards announced in late 2000 that a new category would be added to the 2001 show for Best Animated Feature. Anyone paying attention knew that this tectonic shift was promoted by the aforementioned slight of Chicken Run.
Nearly a quarter century after a lovable farm of liberation seeking chickens mesmerized audiences, Netflix Studios is set to release Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, the aptly playful sequel to the ground breaking original. The film wisely positions itself directly following the events of its predecessor despite the generational gap that separates the two films. Although many of the voice actors have been replaced, the iconic hand crafted, stop motion process that brings the toothy grinned chickens to life has not been manipulated in the least. Taking over the directing duties is Sam Fell (ParaNorman, Flushed Away) who recaptures the elevated British humor and lovable nature of the now free range flock. Like the original, Dawn of the Nugget leans heavily into the thematic duty that one owes to community. Central hen, Ginger (voiced by Thandiwe Newton) has every reason to abandon her role as a liberator and resistance leader now that her family unit has evolved with husband Rocky (Zachary Levi) and daughter Molly. What separates Chicken Run and its sequel is that despite being a stop motion comedy about talking chickens, it is a tale that grasps real world implications. Molly declines the urge to wallow in isolationist thinking as she once again rings the alarm bell of liberation, this time in opposition to the mass slaughter of her community in the name of big business.
Dawn of the Nugget lacks some of the spark of the original, as is usually the case in sequels. The magic of witnessing fowl freedom fighters is partially muted by the “been there, done that” feel of the central mission. To the film’s credit is the exquisite craft and detail with which the environments and characters themselves are created. Controlling minutiae one frame at a time is a painstakingly tedious process, an exercise that the production team passes with flying colors. The upper hand that Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget has over its older sibling is in its distribution. Where the original film earned a worldwide gross close to a quarter billion dollars, it did so on the back of a tremendous word of mouth and mammoth staying power. Backed by the scope of the Netflix platform, it is possible that Dawn of the Nugget will be viewed on repeat in excess of Chicken Run, although there will be no direct box office comparisons to be made. As the complex and impressive history of film animation marches into the future, hopefully audiences will pause each year as the Oscar for best animated feature is announced, to give credit to Chicken Run, the film that failed to earn a single nomination, yet prompted the creation of the award denoting greatness within the genre.
Target Score: 6.5/10 - An exquisitely crafted sequel to the ground breaking turn of the millennium original. Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is both funny and thematically relevant and lends itself to enjoyable family viewing. (Netflix December 15)