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'Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget' Review: Aardman Animations Are Sticking To Their Roots

Aardman Animations, producers of 'Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget'
Aardman Animations, producers of 'Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget'

The stop-motion sequel to the hit comedy animation Chicken Run (2000) premiered in London earlier this year at the BFI London Film Festival where it stood both highly anticipated by audiences and by critics alike. For a fun and charming animation, the question dawned of why the sequel received so much anticipation and acclaim, earning a 79% Tomatometer (critical score) and 87% Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, the contemporary destination for film criticism (it seems). The answer, at its core, is Aardman Animation. From Academy Award-winning pictures such as the Wallace and Gromit franchise (1989–) to the historically beloved Morph (1976–), Aardman continues to trailblaze the stop-motion animation industry, keeping its handmade, intimately detailed style alive, amidst a growing pull towards Computer-Generated Imagery. Whilst the film does use much of this, from composting to digital enhancement, the basis of its characters and world-building remain in physical stop-motion, birthing these elements from coloured modelling clay.


Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget was a tasteful sequel to the beloved classic, remaining all as engaging, funny and charismatic as the first. The plot follows Ginger (Thandiwe Newton), Rocky (Zachary Levi), and their new child Molly (Bella Ramsey), as they are pulled out of their peaceful, safe, life on their island sanctuary and into a new imminent threat of the high-security, hypnotising, chicken farm on the mainland. What stands out immediately with this picture is the scale and complexity of the animation. With many more characters and far more elaborate sets and character movements than the first film, Aardman had to develop their technologies and strategies of stop-motion to create this even more impressive feat of animation. Lighting was a particular element of the mise-en-scène that stands out in the picture, where elaborate colour and positioning are utilised to set the mood of the scene and to introduce the personality of a character. For example, the introduction to Mrs Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) walking down a spiralling glass staircase, whilst being constantly backlit, not only establishes the menacing and evil tone of her character and builds the tension for the reveal of her identity (known to those who had viewed the first film), but it also stands as an impressive feat of filmmaking engineering as the practicality of executing such a shot seems extremely complex. 


Furthermore, the mother-daughter relationship and dynamic of Ginger and Molly is a welcomed new element from the previous film, giving audiences a glimpse at a happier, more relaxed Ginger, content with life, whilst also highlighting the struggles of her desire to conceal the evils of the outside world from her daughter. Molly’s curiosity and determination to explore and feel free despite her mother’s restrictions, is perhaps familiar to many young members of the film’s audiences, telling the classic morality tale of a child disobeying their parents, resulting in themselves falling into danger, only to be later saved by their parents again. The film’s handling of this classic narrative was done masterfully with comedy, self-reflection and references to the original film. For example, the return of Mrs Tweedy and the particularly comedic sequence of the chickens using high-tech strategies and Mission Impossible-style manoeuvres to break into the chicken farm, keep audiences engaged throughout.


Furthermore, the inclusion of the animator’s fingerprints on the model characters in particular displayed the uniqueness of Aardman’s aesthetic. While CG is used to clean up where necessary, they never remove fingerprints in the clay, which encapsulates their signature stop-motion style. This has remained the same with Aardman since their first-ever animation Morph, short films like Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out (1989), and their first feature Chicken Run (2000). As a viewer, knowing these characters are handmade with each set physically constructed and designed, every frame hand-moved, you gain a deeper appreciation for the art, as well as the simple enjoyment of the film. In a contemporary, digital society so focused on technological developments in CGI, VFX and AI, the grounded, human base of Aardman’s animations is a breath of fresh air and a true testament to artistic and innovative talent and physical creativity within the filmmaking industry. 


Whilst at times the sets and colour palette in this sequel can appear synthetic in comparison to the earthy tones of the first film, as well as the changes to the original voice actors, such as the switch from Mel Gibson to Zachary Levi as Rocky, not working as seamlessly as they did in the original film, the sequel successfully created a charmingly fun movie. Its use of comedy, resemblances and references to the original movie and the inclusion of some of the original voice actors resulted in a pleasant and nostalgic watch. However, the key takeaway from this film is the success and ongoing popularity of stop-motion animation, despite situating itself in an industry dominated by CG and AI. Aardman remains the trailblazer for this, as its foundation in clay modelling continues to excite and engage audiences worldwide.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is on Netflix UK from 15th December.


Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor


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