*Warning: this article contains mild spoilers for Chicken Run 2*
The makers of Chicken Run 2: Dawn of the Nugget may have rejected suggestions they set out to turn viewers vegan. But the film is both a withering indictment of the meat industry and a sharp critique of our meat-eating culture. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to tuck into a bit of chicken again after watching it.
Following Ginger, Rocky, and the rest of the gang from the original 2000 Chicken Run film, Dawn of the Nugget takes us on a rescue mission inside Fun-Land Farms. Molly (Bella Ramsey), the daughter of Ginger (Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky (Zachary Levi), has run away from the island safe haven where the chickens who escaped Tweedy’s farm in the last film.
Lured in by the promise of fun, Molly and new pal Frizzle (Josie Sedgwick-Davies) end up at Fun-Land, only to discover it is anything but.
No real freedom
Clearly traumatized from her time on Tweedy’s farm, Ginger tells Molly nothing of the world beyond their island. But Molly wants more than what the little idyll can offer. The island isn’t a farm, but Molly still feels trapped on it.
When a new poultry farm is built across the water, Ginger decides the only option for her community is to hide itself. Given her reputation as a “freedom fighter,” they’re surprised and relieved that Ginger wants to prioritize their safety.
“We can’t risk our freedom by venturing into a world that finds chickens so delicious,” Ginger tells brainiac chicken Mac (Lynn Ferguson).
Although Ginger and her friends have escaped the meat industry, as long as it exists they will never truly be free or safe. I couldn’t help feeling Ginger was really addressing the audience, asking us: is a moment of pleasure for you worth our lives?
Not so Fun-Land
Once Molly manages to run away, she comes across Frizzle, a chicken who has been deemed “too small” to be taken to Fun-Land. It’s a rare moment in which the film glosses over the reality of what happens to chickens. In the real world, an underweight chicken would be killed on the farm, probably by having their neck snapped.
Though Frizzle’s escape from this fate is left unexplained, the very next scene pulls no punches in showing us this fact about the meat industry: it lies to us. And it gets way with it because it tells people what they want to hear.
Molly and Frizzle are determined to get to Fun-Land Farms for one reason – the nugget factory’s marketing. The side of the farm truck they follow has a picture of a happy chicken sitting in a bucket among sunny green fields. “The happy chicken truck,” Frizzle heartbreakingly calls it. All she and Molly want is some fun and adventure, and they’re only too eager to believe in what Fun-Land Farms is selling them.
Inside, the farm looks like an ideal of the free range farms that we’re told are so nice for the chickens to live on. But it quickly becomes apparent that it isn’t at all what it seems, mirroring reality. Undercover investigations have revealed that being “free range” is no guarantee of a good life.
“It’s not as much fun as it looked on the posters,” Frizzle says, fear starting to creep into her voice. Yes, the chickens at Fun-Land are happy, but for a very dark reason indeed.
The nugget factory turns out be using technology that the actual meat industry probably dreams about. Every chicken is fitted with a collar that makes them docile, dim, and happy.
A promotional video played to a restaurant executive who visits the factory explains that birds panic when “faced with processing.” They tense their muscles and knots form in their connective tissue, which makes the meat “tough, dry and flavourless.”
“What if we could make a chicken happy to be processed?” the narrator of the video asks. The collars are the solution. When it’s time for the chickens to become nuggets, their collars are triggered to make them go willingly, happily, to their deaths.
The collars are a potent symbol of two aspects of chicken farming and animal farming generally. One is the myth of humane slaughter. The chickens at Fun-Land do not want to die. Any without a collar strives not only to live but to enjoy their life. To kill them is always to do them harm, no matter how it’s done.
The second is the way animal farming erases individuals and turns animals into a homogenous mass. They become merely numbers – each collar in Fun-Land is numbered – and not unique beings with their own feelings and personalities. It’s easier not to feel sorry for the animals you’re eating if it you try to forget their cognitive and emotional complexity. This is exactly what some meat-eaters do.
As if to drive home the point that chickens are not dumb automatons as many like to believe, the film flips this characterization by making many of the humans characters stupid and clumsy. Meanwhile, our chicken heroes are good problem-solvers with good social skills – just as they are in real life.
A message of liberation
Dawn of the Nugget makes a strong case for the liberation of animals from all farms. And it pulls it off without telling its audience what to do, because its target is the meat industry and its protagonists are chickens. There is no other world they could wish for than one where none of their kind is killed for food. This will probably make that idea more palatable to many.
Maybe none of the messages I saw in the film were intended by the filmmakers. But the only way not to see those messages is to ignore all the context in which this film was made. The proliferation of intensive chicken farms in the UK and elsewhere. The callously misleading advertising by the meat industry. The fact that billions of chickens – who are sensitive, feeling individuals – suffer and die every year just so people can eat chicken nuggets.