Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget (PG, 101 mins)
Wonka (PG, 116 mins)
Every so often a film comes along that makes you smile even before you’ve seen it, purely on account of the title.
Who wouldn’t flock to a second Shaun The Sheep caper, once they knew it was called Farmageddon (2019)? And now Aardman Animations have pulled it off again with their Chicken Run sequel, exquisitely subtitled Dawn Of The Nugget.
The original was Aardman’s first feature-length film, back in 2000. As it happens, that more or less coincided with my family moving from London deep into the English countryside, where (like all townies relocating to the sticks) we promptly added a collection of hens to our rural idyll.
We invited the children to name them. To nobody’s surprise, given how much we all adored Chicken Run, they became Ginger, Babs, Bunty and Mac.
The children are grown up and back in the city now, but I can’t wait for them to see this sequel which, even allowing for the extraordinarily meticulous work required to piece these ‘claymation’ films together, has been a long time in the making. Not to mention the 23 years we have all waited to see what happens next.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is released in select cinemas today on and on Netflix from next Friday
Ginger (now voiced by Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (Zachary Levi) become proud parents to the spirited Molly (Bella Ramsey) who, inspired by her dad’s stirring tales of his old life as an American circus rooster, increasingly feels the need to spread her wings
In an eggshell, Ginger (now voiced by Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (Zachary Levi) are still living blissfully in their island paradise, where they and their fowl friends are safe from predatory humans.
But then they become proud parents to the spirited Molly (Bella Ramsey) who, inspired by her dad’s stirring tales of his old life as an American circus rooster, increasingly feels the need to spread her wings.
Inevitably, her sense of adventure leads her into eggsistential peril.
With her new friend, a Scouse chicken called Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davis, sounding pleasingly like one of the Liver Birds of blessed memory), Molly winds up in a huge chicken-processing factory, governed by Ginger’s old nemesis, evil Mrs Tweedy (Miranda Richardson).
There are terribly dark deeds going on in this sinister place, plainly modelled on the lair of a Bond villain. Mrs Tweedy’s scientist husband, Dr Fry (Nick Mohammed), has hit on a way of brainwashing the prisoners so that, after spending their final days in a pastel-coloured theme park with an all-you-can-eat buffet, they go rapturously to their slaughter.
Consequently, they will taste better when they are turned into a new-fangled delicacy which Mrs Tweedy intends to sell to a restaurant tycoon. Yes, the dreaded nuggets.
In the meantime, Ginger, Rocky and their poultry posse, including Babs (Jane Horrocks), Bunty (Imelda Staunton) and Mac (Lynn Ferguson), plus their rat allies Nick (Romesh Ranganathan) and Fetcher (Daniel Mays), must plot how to penetrate the formidable compound and spring Molly from impending doom. As Ginger says: ‘Last time we broke out of a chicken farm, this time we’re breaking in.’
Dawn Of The Nugget, directed by Sam Fell, is deliciously imaginative and magnificently animated
Ginger, Rocky and their poultry posse, including Babs (Jane Horrocks), Bunty (Imelda Staunton) and Mac (Lynn Ferguson), plus their rat allies Nick (Romesh Ranganathan) and Fetcher (Daniel Mays), must plot how to penetrate the formidable compound and spring Molly from impending doom
As before, the crusty World War II veteran Fowler (now voiced by David Bradley) gets many of the best lines, ominously warning that ‘careless squawks cost lives’. What a joy
While by definition lacking the sheer glorious novelty of the original, Dawn Of The Nugget, directed by Sam Fell, is deliciously imaginative and magnificently animated. The Chicken Run writers Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell have returned to script it and have done so with terrific verve and wit.
As before, the crusty World War II veteran Fowler (now voiced by David Bradley) gets many of the best lines, ominously warning that ‘careless squawks cost lives’. What a joy.
The same cannot be said of Wonka, with its relentlessly forced whimsy and a lead performance from Timothee Chalamet that unsettlingly is never really true to the character dreamt up 60 years ago by Roald Dahl.
The 27-year-old brings a certain dishy charm to the role — but Dahl’s Willy Wonka was a complex, rather dark cove.
Chalamet coasts through this so-called ‘origin story’ like a chirpy song-and-dance man, and moreover is presented less like a thrilling young chocolatier than an up-and-coming wizard.
Perhaps significantly, the producer is David Heyman, whose credits include all the Harry Potter films.
Paddington director Paul King’s lavish musical fantasy follows Willy as he strives to make his fortune in a city rather like Dickensian London, controlled by a dastardly three-man cartel of manufacturers who water down their chocolate and use it to bribe the authorities.
Wonka, this derivative prequel and its instantly forgettable songs, felt naggingly like a greedy attempt to cash in on Dahl’s creations
There are some rousing sequences and moments of fun in all this, as you would expect from a cast that includes Olivia Colman and Rowan Atkinson as baddies (albeit, in Atkinson’s case, as the kind of crooked cleric he could play in his sleep).
And Hugh Grant makes the most of his shrunken CGI character: a cynical Oompa-Loompa. But I’m afraid the little orange-faced fellow’s cynicism is infectious.
From where I was sitting, this derivative prequel and its instantly forgettable songs felt naggingly like a greedy attempt to cash in on Dahl’s creations, rather than a movie with heart and soul.
If it were chocolate, it would be only 25 per cent cocoa.
Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget is in select cinemas from today and on Netflix from next Friday.
The Inseparables (U, 90 mins)
Very much not to be confused with Simone de Beauvoir’s recently discovered autobiographical memoir of the same name, The Inseparables is a somewhat lacklustre children’s film, an animation about a wooden string-puppet called Don, voiced, I’m sorry to say, with matching woodenness by Dakota West.
Don is fed up with being cast as the fool in puppet-theatre productions. He’s a romantic who believes himself more suited to heroic roles, and his dream comes true when he ends up at large in New York’s Central Park. He promptly reinvents himself as Don Quixote, an adventurer who gets his chance to tilt at windmills when he finds one on a mini-golf hole. But there’s an opportunity to become a genuine hero when his old puppet-theatre colleagues are kidnapped by an unscrupulous brother and sister who try to sell them on eBay. Together with his sidekick, a toy dog, Don must save them.
The Inseparables is a somewhat lacklustre children’s film, an animation about a wooden string-puppet called Don, voiced, I’m sorry to say, with matching woodenness by Dakota West
It’s true that writers Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow worked on Toy Story, as The Inseparables publicity boasts, although echoes of Pixar’s 1995 classic are otherwise pretty faint. That said, there’s just about enough to keep kids happy for an hour and a half on a wet December afternoon.
Tarrac (15, 96 mins)
I liked Tarrac, a formula-driven Irish-language film about a city businesswoman (Kelly Gough) who, having returned from Dublin to her native Kerry to see her ailing father (Lorcan Cranitch), re-joins her old rowing crew. Against all the odds, they end up competing for the prestigious Munster Cup. It’s a familiar sporting underdog story, brimming with all the usual cliches, but it’s nicely acted and gorgeous on the eye.
James Blunt: One Brit Wonder (15, 95 mins)
Fans of James Blunt say the same about him. With unfettered access to the Old Harrovian singer-songwriter, a very likeable documentary reaffirms everything we already know — that the former army officer is a jolly super chap with a smashing line in self-deprecation.
James Blunt: One Brit Wonder, which had a one-night outing in cinemas this week, is available to rent or buy from iTunes, Amazon and Apple Store from December 22.