Chicken Run 2 director Sam Fell has addressed the controversy surrounding original voice star Julia Sawalha, who claims she was dropped from the sequel for sounding ”too old”.
Sawalha voiced the main character of Ginger in the original Aardman animated film, released in 2000, about a band of chickens plotting to escape the farm in which they’re kept.
A belated sequel was announced in June 2020 but, one month later, Sawalha, 55, claimed she was “informed out of the blue, via email” that her voice “now sounds ‘too old’ and they want a younger actress to reprise the role”.
In a statement posted to her social media, Sawalha said that she was baffled over the decision, especially as she claims not to have been asked to supply a “voice test” prior to the decision being made.
She wrote that she went so far as to submit her own voice test, recorded at home, to Aardman, which ultimately made no difference. Instead, Thandiwe Newton was cast as the character in the new film, which is called Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, with Zachary Levi replacing Mel Gibson as the voice of Rocky.
“The reason given was that his voice is now too old,” Sawalha wrote. “I feel I have been fobbed off with the same excuse. I went to great lengths to prove to the production that my voice is nigh on the same as it was in the original film. If they will be using some of the original cast members… let’s be frank, I feel I have been unfairly dismissed.”
She continued: “To say I am devastated and furious would be an understatement. I feel totally powerless, something in all of this doesn’t quite ring true. I trust my instincts and they are waving red flags.”
“I am saddened that I have lost the chance to work with Nick Park and Peter Lord from whom I learnt so much. The three of us, together, created Ginger. Today I responded by wishing the production the best of luck and the greatest success with the sequel. There is nothing more I can do… I’m off for the chop now.”
Addressing this controversy in a new interview, Fell said he “adored” the original cast, but said he viewed the new film “as a reboot more than just a sequel” and that “it seemed fair to consider the whole picture and just think, ‘Is this still the best fit for this new story?’”
He told Metro.co.uk: “The characters are evolving, certainly the central characters, and Ginger’s evolved in this film. It’s a new chapter. It’s a new challenge. And in these lists the casting director put forward, Thandiwe Newton just popped out to me personally as an amazing choice. I love the sound of her voice, the music.”
Fell said he was ultimately convinced to cast Newton due to her performance in HBO drama Westworld, telling the outlet: “She’s a strong freedom fighter but being a parent and having a daughter makes you vulnerable – and I really saw that in Thandiwe in Westworld I felt, so I just made my choices.”
The new film will see Ginger and Rocky, now living with their daughter (Bella Ramsey) in a “human-free chicken utopia”, facing a new threat. Original voice stars who returned include Miranda Richardson, Imelda Staunton, Jane Horrocks and Lynn Ferguson.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is released on Netflix on 15 December.