‘Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget,’ Adam Sandler’s ‘Leo’ and ‘Nimona’ Sizzle At Netflix Animation Showcase

Once again claiming a centerpiece slot at the Annecy Animation Festival, this year’s Netflix’s animation showcase teased upcoming title “Leo” with an intro from Adam Sandler, drew buzz for series like “Blue Eye Samurai” with a stirring display, and offered an extended behind the scenes peak at “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” with the creative team in tow.

Taking the stage to a warm welcome, Aardman co-founder Peter Lord, producer Leyla Hobart and the film’s director Sam Fell world premiered 12 minutes of fowl footage and shared technical details about a long-awaited sequel set to hatch on December 15 – the same end-of-year perch where Netflix placed “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.”

“Dawn of the Nugget” picks up twelve (screen) years after the first film, and in the intervening decade Ginger and Rocky (now voiced by Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi) have had Molly (Bella Ramsey). We meet the family in domestic idyll as they make the most of the island bird sanctuary they now call home. Only all is not well in paradise – back on the mainland an ominous new factory called Happy Land Farms has begun rounding up poultry on an industrial scale, while nearer still young Molly starts eyeing her habitat as another coop to fly.

For her part, Ginger has lost her taste for adventure. “We can’t risk our freedom in a world that finds chicken so… delicious,” she says at a group meeting, warning her gang away from investigating the matter. But Ginger’s tone quickly gives way once Molly sets out to discover the world – and ends up in danger.

Whereas the first “Chicken Run” played with WWII iconography, winking at “The Great Escape” and “Stalag 17,” this new volume pushes those references two decades forward. When Molly arrives at Happy Land, for instance, she discovers a gleaming fortress, carved into a mountainside, as if dreamed from a 1960s-era Bond film.

Without breaking Aardman’s irreverent comic tone, the filmmakers also drew inspiration from period-appropriate TV favorites like “Joe 90” and “Captain Scarlet,” and likened this new version of Ginger to Ripley in “Aliens” – another reluctant hero sent back into action out of maternal instinct.

Those updates references – and the series of chases, Rube Goldberg mechanisms, and bits of derring-do they all precipitate – also allowed the filmmaking to push their formal boundaries. They used VR technology to compose and block set-pieces on sets that took nearly two years to build, and shot the project in a studio the size of four soccer fields. “We’ve poured in every bit of technical and creative know-how we’ve learned over 40 years of filmmaking,” said director Sam Fell.

A musical comedy, directed by Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and David Wachtenheim, “Leo” follows an 74-year-old lizard (voiced by Adam Sandler) who sets to break-free from his classroom home upon discovering he has only one year to live. Though playing with fears of mortality, the trio of directors onstage at Annecy didn’t want to give attendees the wrong idea. “It’s a comedy,” said Smigel. “We promise!”

The star himself beamed in to introduce a clip that saw Leo shocking one of his elementary school minders by displaying his ability to speak. The clip gave attendees two Sandlers for the price of one, as the young girl in the scene was voiced by the comedian’s own daughter. “Be nice,” he warned in his introduction.

In fact, the Happy Madison production features all three of Sandler’s daughters, alongside Bill Burr, Cecily Strong and Jason Alexander. The film will release on Nov. 21.  

Other features teased at Netflix panel included the DreamWorks Animation produced “Orion and The Dark,” “The Monkey King” from executive producer Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”), and the graphic novel adaptation “Nimona,” which will world-premiere at Annecy on Wednesday ahead of an in-depth making-of presentation the following day.

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