Tag Archives: Aardman animation

Nobody Here but Us Chickens

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

by Hope Madden

It has been 23 years since Aardman animation briefly abandoned its cheese-loving besties Wallace & Gromit in favor of a prison break caper. Chicken Run saw one plucky hen named Ginger ­– inspired by Rocky the Rooster’s tall tales of being able to fly – organize a leave-no-chicken-behind escape mission from Tweedy’s Farm.

Chick Run: Dawn of the Nugget finds Ginger (voiced this go-round by Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (now Zachary Levi) some time later (though certainly not 23 years later) living in chicken paradise with their friends and their brand-new chick, Molly (Bella Ramsey). But motherhood has turned Ginger from a courageous leader to a, well, chicken. Protective and worried about little Molly, Ginger encourages the flock to hide when they see trucks hauling chickens to a high-tech factory that will turn them into nuggets.

Ginger’s attitude changes once Molly’s in jeopardy, and the whole flock rallies to save the strong-willed little chick and the day.

It may be a lot to expect viewers to recognize some of the callbacks to the original, in that the target audience for this film was born about 15 years after Chicken Run was released. Adults may notice some absent voices but are more likely to sense the absence of Nick Park.

Park co-wrote, directed, and animated most of the early Ardman masterpieces. Like the Muppets without Jim Henson, Aardman just isn’t Aardman without Park. Sam Fell directs a script by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell (both of whom worked on the original) and Rachel Tunnard. The visuals are pretty and nearly as engaging as you expect from Ardman, but everything – including the story, dialog and gags – feels a bit standard, a bit bland.

Newton and Levi offer relatively dull performances. On the other hand, Ramsey’s a delight and the vocal ensemble – Imelda Staunton, David Gradley, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Jane Horrocks, Josie Sedgwick-Davies and Miranda Richardson – elevate and energize the otherwise vanilla script.

There’s nothing terribly wrong about Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. But when your animation studio sets the bar so high, “nothing terribly wrong” is quite a disappointment.

Soccer Buddies

Early Man

by Hope Madden

There is something adorably British about Nick Parks’s latest plasticine adventure, Early Man.

No I am not being condescending. It’s animated. It’s supposed to be adorable.

This Aardman export—the Brit animation studio responsible for the Wallace & Gromit classics, among others—pits dunder-headed but lovable cave dwellers against greedy Bronze Age Euro-trash as it spoofs sports flicks.

We open at the dawn of time, when dinosaurs and cave men and giant, toothy mallards roamed the earth outside Manchester, England. Around lunchtime.

It’s silly. And sweet. And basically a 90-minute mash note to Manchester United.

When those posh bullies from the Bronze Age (led by Tom Hiddleston’s Lord Nooth) push Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his nincompoopy cavemen friends out of their fertile valley, Dug devises a challenge to regain his beloved home.

Like all great sports films, Early Man pushes the underdog narrative to epitomize more than simple foot-to-ball competition. Plus, you really do want these earnest faces, overbites and all, to learn to believe in themselves.

And why can’t a pig play soccer?

Dug’s quick trip into town square offers opportunities for the Aardman Easter eggs—be sure to scan the vendor booths for hilarious names. With voice talent to spare (Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon are among those with smaller roles), you’re assured the intentionally silly jokes are delivered expertly.

The problem is that Early Man would have made for a really hilarious short.

The story doesn’t benefit from a 90-minute stretch. The setting—mainly an imposing landscape littered with enormous rib bones—doesn’t offer enough opportunity for visual distraction and the characters are not memorable enough to keep your attention for the full run time.

Expect much of the familiar: googly eyes, enormous teeth, simple characters and kind-hearted laughter. CGI mixes with the stop-action to rob the film of some character, but Early Man has charm to spare.