'Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget' review: Fun but not quite poultry in motion

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Dec. 13—In 2000, "Chicken Run" scurried into theaters, exposing the masses to the brilliant stop-motion work of Aardman Animations.

Before then, it was best known for projects including the memorable music video for Peter Gabriel's hit song "Sledgehammer" and, more relevantly, the charming short films featuring the endearing duo of Wallace and Gromit.

"Chicken Run" — stemming from the idea of doing a movie inspired by the 1963 war film "The Great Escape," only, you know, with chicken prisoners instead of the human variety — made more than $225 million worldwide and, to hear the Aardman folks tell it, helped lead to the creation of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, which first honored films released in 2001.

The British studio has since put out more stop-motion features, including 2005's "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," which won that Oscar, and even entered the crowded computer-animated field with "Flushed Away" (2006). More features have come, but the company resisted doing a "Chicken Run" sequel — an idea floated, not surprisingly, back when the movie became a hit — until now.

"Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget" debuts this week on Netflix.

While Aardman's awe-inspiring and unquestionably time-consuming stop-motion work remains the foundation, it is mixed, seemingly liberally, with digital animation work from the studio's in-house visual effects team.

We're not crying fowl here — there surely was no other way to make this movie, which has a much grander scale than the original — but some of the simple beauty from more than two decades ago has been lost in the constant complexity and the busy nature of "Nugget."

That said, there is plenty to like with this (mostly) family-friendly flick, which features a few returning voice cast members but boasts a new trio of actors in the lead roles and takes its cues from the "Mission: Impossible" franchise and heist films such as "Ocean's Eleven."

As we reconvene with chicken-kind on its island sanctuary, former American circus rooster Rocky (Zachary Levi, taking over from Mel Gibson) is regaling the egg he's produced with British chick Ginger (now voiced by Thandiwe Newton) with tales of their great escape, led by his better half. However, the once freedom-yearning and driven Ginger tells him it's perhaps time to put the past behind.

"But these — these are our glory days," he pleads. "That's who we are."

"That's who we were," she counters. "We went through all of that so our baby doesn't have to."

Moments later, said baby — daughter Molly — hatches. Time goes by and Molly (Bella Ramsey) grows into a young chicken who looks toward the mainland and wonders what she's missing, especially after seeing a truck for Fun-Land Farms, the side of which features an image of a happy chicken sitting in a bucket.

Frustrated by her mother's stern warnings to stay put — with Ginger seemingly denying Molly the "freedom" her mom so cherishes —, Molly flies, er, flees the coop, making a friend, Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies), on the mainland. The naive and optimistic Frizzle, too, has been drawn there by the lure of Fun-Land Farm, which promises "happy endings" for chickens.

Soon, the gals are scooped up by a Fun-Land driver and are on their way to what proves to be a massive complex. Inside it, they are surrounded by myriad seemingly happy chickens, but Molly soon suspects something nefarious is afoot.

Meanwhile, Ginger — who previously had preferred to hide from the Fun-Land folks rather than take them on — mobilizes a force of chickens, including the generally pessimistic Bunny (a returning Imelda Stanton of "The Crown") and Fowler (now voiced by David Bradley, a "Game of Thrones" alum like Ramsey), a rooster with questionable memories of his military days. Also ready to help out, considering Molly has become a pseudo-niece to them, are the typically profit-focused rats Nick and Fetcher, with newcomers Romesh Ranganathan and Daniel Mays, respectively, voicing the returning characters.

When the rescue force arrives outside the processing facility for the big break-in, Rocky acts impulsively, finding a way in with no plan of how to go about getting Molly out.

Further complicating matters for Ginger and Co.: Fun-Land is run by their old nemesis, Mrs. Tweedy (a returning Miranda Richardson), who has moved on from chicken pot pies and is ready to unleash, you guessed it, the fast-food chicken nugget to a world on the go.

As a whole, the voice cast is solid, but there are no true standouts. Admittedly, we were hoping for something a little more from Ramsey after her excellent work on the HBO apocalyptic, zombie-driven drama series "The Last of Us" early this year, but she, along with likewise talented actors Levi ("Shazam!") and Newton ("Westworld"), is merely fine.

Similarly, director Sam Fell ("Flushed Away") and co-director Jeffrey Newitt — taking over for Aardman heavyweights Peter Lord, Aardman's co-founder, and Nick Park — steady this massive ship. And we'd like to have seen something truly inventive from writers Karey Kirkpatrick, John O'Farrell and Rachel Tunnard, "Nugget" certainly has its fair share of clever chicken-y bits. (And for the record, the duo of Kirkpatrick and O'Farrell get the story-by credits.)

While there may not be quite enough reason to run to stream "Dawn of the Nugget," it should offer a little nourishment during family time over the remaining meaty part of the holiday season.

'Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget'

Where: Netflix.

When: Dec. 15.

Rated: PG for peril, action and some thematic elements.

Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Stars (of four): 2.5.