Producers: Steve Pegram and Leyla Hobart Director: Sam Fell and Jeffrey Newitt Screenplay: Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell and Rachel Tunnard Cast: Thandiwe Newton, Bella Ramsey, Zachary Levi, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson, Jane Horrocks, David Bradley, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Josie Sedgwick-Davies, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Mohammed and Miranda Richardson Distributor: Netflix
Back in 2000, Britain’s Aardman Studios, the masters of Claymation who gave the world Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, made their first feature “Chicken Run,” a takeoff on “The Great Escape” featuring hens, a rooster and an evil chicken farmer that became an enormous international success. Now after twenty-three years they return with a follow-up featuring many of the same characters, though only a few of the original voice cast.
This time the inspiration is “Mission: Impossible”—Harry Gregson-Williams’ score briefly cites its theme to emphasize the point. A prologue shows a sweet but rambunctious little chick bursting out of her eggshell, the daughter of Rocky (voiced by Zachary Levi, replacing Mel Gibson) and Ginger (Thandiwe Newton, replacing Julia Sawalha). Molly (Bella Ramsey), as they call her, grows up happy and loved on the secluded island where the chicken community lives in contentment after escaping the farm of cruel Mrs. Tweedy (returnee Miranda Richardson); their only visitors are Nick (Romesh Ranganathan) and Fetcher (Daniel Mays) a pair of rats who occasionally deliver supplies from the mainland.
Her parents, and everyone else, are extremely protective of Molly, but she grows up to be an adventurous, independent-minded adolescent, with a streak of curiosity that encourages a yearning to learn about the outside world. Ginger and Rocky try to squelch it, but she’s fascinated when trucks are spied on the mainland advertising a place called Fun-Land Farms, bearing the image of a happy chicken popping its head out of a bucket, and she goes off to investigate. She meets Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), a scatterbrained young chicken determined to find the farm—“What chicken doesn’t want a bucket?” she says—and joins her on the quest.
Meanwhile Ginger, who had advised the community to hunker down and hide, now enlists a crew to go to the mainland and find Molly. So off go she, Rocky, waspish Bunty (Imelda Staunton), nerdy Mac (Lynn Ferguson) and dopey Babs (Jane Horrocks), along with Molly’s “uncles” Nick and Fetcher; old Fowler (David Bradley), a former RAF mascot who never tires of talking at length about his military credentials, is tasked with preparing an escape route.
Of course the farm turns out to be a factory where chickens are brought, brainwashed into believing the place is a paradise, and fattened up in preparation for being processed into nuggets. The fearsome operation is run by none other than the murderous Mrs. Tweedy and her nerdy scientist husband Dr. Fry (Nick Mohammed), with their product intended for the Sir Eat-a-Lot restaurants owned by snooty Reginald Smith (Peter Serafinowicz).
The interlopers led by Ginger succeed in rescuing Molly, but then resolve to go back and save the rest of the chickens, including Frizzle. Naturally the trio of screenwriters–Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell and Rachel Tunnard—contrive a host of obstacles for them to overcome, including plenty of missteps by overconfident Rocky and the capture of Ginger by the evil Tweedy. But rest assured they emerge triumphant. More important than the plot, though, are the witty characterizations and the stream of jokes, most invested with a deliciously British sense of humor that enlivens the dialogue. (Loquacious Fowler’s encounter with a snail is a good example.)
The fine voice work is complemented by visuals that, with the delightfully unfinished look characteristic of Aardman’s stop-motion work, is always a joy, particularly when one considers the Aar-duous, time-consuming, labor-intensive patience required to achieve it. Every production from the studio, whether a short or a feature, is clearly a labor of love, and one would be remiss not to mention the efforts of production designer Darren Dubicki, animation supervisors Ian Whitlock and Loyd Price, effects supervisor Jon Biggins, and cinematographer Charles Copping. Director Sam Fell and editor Stephen Perkins bring in the picture at a typically unrushed ninety-eight minutes, giving one time to appreciate every cheeky verbal and visual gag.
Though like most follow-ups it doesn’t quite match the fun of the original, “Nugget” is an amusingly droll sequel that fans will enthusiastically welcome, especially after nearly a quarter-century wait.