Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is now streaming on Netflix, reminding moviegoers over 30 that Chicken Run is a movie that exists. Remember? That 2000 claymation comedy for kids about chickens who escape from the farm? Oh, right! Pretty good movie!
Well, now there’s a sequel streaming on Netflix. The movie expands on what happens to Rocky (voiced by Zachary Levi) and Ginger (voiced by Thandiwe Newton) after they’ve escaped the farm. The poultry couple are now parents, raising a daughter chicken (Bella Ramsey), who longs to leave her idyllic island home. But Rocky and Ginger know all too well the dangers that await chickens in the human world.
But if you remember the movie Chicken Run, you might remember that Mel Gibson, not Zachary Levi, voiced the lead rooster back in 2000. So what happened?
Why isn’t Mel Gibson in Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget?
Mel Gibson is not in Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget because he was never asked to be in it, according to a 2020 report from The Wrap.
He wasn’t the only one not asked to return. The actress who originally voiced Ginger, the female lead chicken, was also recast for the sequel—and she didn’t go quietly. After finding out she would not be asked to return for the new movie, Julia Sawalha shared a now-deleted statement on Twitter in July 2020, in which she said she was told by her agent that she, and other cast members, were being recast because their voices sounded “too old.”
“The reason they gave is that my voice now sounds ‘too old’ and they wanted a younger actress,” Sawalha wrote in an open letter, which has now also been deleted.
Sawalha, who is now 55, was understandably outraged by this reasoning. Her replacement, Thandiwe Newton, is 51, and the character of Ginger is now a mom to a teenage chicken, anyhow. Wouldn’t it make sense that she sounds older? Sawalha even filmed a video of herself speaking some of her old dialogue, to prove her voice still sounded the same. In response to the video, an unnamed “creative” from the studio, Aardman Animations, told Sawalha, “Some of the voices (not yours, I agree) definitely sound older,” but that “We will be going ahead to re-cast the voice of Ginger.”
Unfortunately, as Sawalha likely knows, the real reason she wasn’t asked to return to voice Ginger was likely not because of her age, but to appease the fragile ego of former star Mel Gibson. No sane studio would want to cast Gibson, one of Hollywood’s most controversial actors, as the lead in a children’s movie. He was dropped by his talent agency in 2010 after audio leaked of him screaming obscenities at his then-girlfriend, who also accused him of domestic violence. He’s made multiple, documented, vile anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic comments. It’s all on tape, people.
Quite a few Hollywood folks cut ties with Gibson after the leaked audio, but he’s been stubbornly attempting a comeback for years, for those who will have him. Apparently, that list does not include Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget director Sam Fell, Netflix, or the folks at Aardman Animations. Likely a smart call, as Gibson’s return would have dominated the press cycle. And yet, none of the aforementioned folks were brave enough to own up to the real reason for not inviting Gibson back. It sounds like the studio fed Gibson a flimsy excuse about age, and then replaced the other cast in an attempt to cover their tracks. Which means that even though Sawalha is not a documented racist, sexist, anti-Semitic homophobe, she’s getting punished for Gibson’s mistakes.
That’s one theory, anyhow. Two cast members from the movie did return: Miranda Richardson and Lynn Ferguson returned as the voices of Mrs. Tweedy and Mac, respectively. But everyone else in the cast was replaced, including the voices of rats Nick and Fetcher (formerly Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels, now voiced by David Bradley and Daniel Mays). No one ever said Hollywood was fair.