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It took 23 years, but a 'Chicken Run' sequel has finally hatched

The hens hatch a plan to save their flock in <em>Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget</em> premiering on Netflix on December 15.
Aardman / Netflix
The hens hatch a plan to save their flock in Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget premiering on Netflix on December 15.

Fans of the movie Chicken Run need wait no longer. Aardman's sequel is finally here after 23 years.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget premieres on Netflix on December 15.

The same studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Shaun The Sheep, Aardman is known for its stop-motion, clay animation and its cheeky British humor. Whereas Chicken Run was a spoof of the 1963 movie The Great Escape, Dawn of the Nugget is a Bond-style heist movie with some of The Truman Show's satire.

"A kind of Chicken Impossible," says Nugget director Sam Fell, "and it's kind of comic because you haven't got Tom Cruise. You've got Babs and Bunty. These chickens [are] the most unlikely action heroes."

So why the wait?

For crowd scenes, more than 800 chicken wings were made and more than 150,000 feathers were hand painted. Most of the clay puppets each have a set of 14 mouths.

"We're just sort of slow filmmakers," says Fell unapologetically. "You've heard of the slow food movement. We're the slow film movement."

While there is some use of CGI, Dawn of the Nugget retains Aardman's trademark stop-motion, clay animation. Sculpting those birds takes time and patience. For crowd scenes, more than 800 chicken wings were made and more than 150,000 feathers were hand painted. Most of the clay puppets each have a set of 14 mouths.

Clay shortage?

The English factory that made the clay Aardman uses recently went out of business. Alarming headlines implied that Aardman was "running out of clay."

Fell says that's not true. Aardman bought the company's "whole supply" and they have enough for the next five years. But he says the consistency of the clay works particularly well with animation, so they're "working on a recipe and figuring out how to make it in bulk."

"It's a very, very slight threat," he jokes, "like an iceberg about 100 miles in the distance, you know. Don't worry. We're not going to crash into it."

Hatching a million dollar masterpiece

Co-written and co-directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, Chicken Run was Aardman's first, full-length feature film when it came out in 2000. At the time, it was a small company that put everything it had into the movie, which went on to make $225 million worldwide according to the studio.

It became one of those movies that gains fans years after its release. "I probably watched it about five times," says 11 year old Atia Kampstra of Stratford, Wisc. With 21 pet chickens and her role as editor of Chicken Feed News, Kampstra is squarely in the Chicken Run demo. She loves how the chickens in the movie beat the odds. "Even though they have like the worst circumstances, they'll still figure out a way to do anything."

Whereas the first <em>Chicken Run</em> is a spoof on the movie <em>The Great Escape</em>, Sam Fell says the new one is a heist movie like "Chicken Impossible." Fell directed <em>Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget</em>.
/ Netflix
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Netflix
Whereas the first Chicken Run is a spoof on the movie The Great Escape, Sam Fell says the new one is a heist movie like "Chicken Impossible." Fell directed Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.

Chicken Run was the first DVD Aron Steinke ever purchased when it came out in 2000. He was 18 at the time and says he was impressed that the heroes in the movie are mostly female. "You might not even remember that this is actually about women's collective power," he says. "You could even, like, parallel it to, you know, a unionized workforce in the modern age." Today Steinke writes graphic novels for kids.

Fell says 23 years ago the Aardman filmmakers were totally unprepared for Chicken Run's success. "So when it came out and it was very popular, you know, the guys at DreamWorks said what's the next one? And they were like, well, we haven't really got one," he explains. Some of the creative team from the first movie are now working on a new Wallace and Gromit movie.

The Truman Show reference

Without giving too much away, the heroic chickens in the sequel must rescue their flock from a chicken factory.

"The reality of what goes on inside an industrial facility, like it's really bleak," notes Fell whose credits include Laika's ParaNorman and Aardman's Flushed Away. He says an early draft of the script depicted the chicken factory as a kind of prison with cages. "And it was just too grim to be honest."

<em>Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget</em> director Sam Fell says a first draft of the script depicted the chicken factory as a prison with cages. Instead they chose a place that's "a little bit too happy."
/ Aardman / Netflix
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Aardman / Netflix
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget director Sam Fell says a first draft of the script depicted the chicken factory as a prison with cages. Instead they chose a place that's "a little bit too happy."

Instead he turned the chicken factory into a kind of creepy, brightly colored Disneyland for chickens. The free-range "Fun-Land Farms" is just a little too happy. The birds are having so much fun bouncing on marshmallows to realize their fate. Fell says he was thinking about The Truman Show, a satire of the kind of fake happiness of reality TV or antiseptic suburbia. He says he wanted the factory to feel "deliberately unreal."

Birds of a feather stick together

Like the first one, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is "a film about community," says Fell.

That spirit seems to run throughout Aardman. Co-founder Peter Lord told the AFP the company recently became employee-owned.

"We could have sold it to some media giant and made a shed-load of money," Lord said, "But then what? They'd sell it on, and eventually the thing that is so precious to us would become a commodity for other people to asset strip."

This story was edited for digital and broadcast by Rose Friedman. The audio story was produced by Isabella Gomez Sarmiento

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.

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