Although there are many people out there who lament Netflix’s growing influence as a threat to cinema, there can be no denying that the streaming service allows filmmakers a sense of liberation that they can’t get elsewhere.
In just the past few years, the platform has given Alfonso Cuarón the freedom to make his intimate slice-of-life drama Roma, funded Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic The Irishman and, most recently, produced Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods when nobody else would. But now, Netflix is taking on its most prestigious project to date: Chicken Run 2.
Of course, we can joke that this poultry project doesn’t carry quite the same gravitas as those other movies, but Aardman Animations are exactly the kind of visionary filmmakers that Netflix is crucially supporting right now. They are a dynamite team with a consistent track record for producing critically lauded family fare, but it’s an inconvenient truth that films from the studio don’t usually see much success at the global box office.
Just a quick skim through Aardman’s recent releases reveals a string of under-performers, with the likes of Arthur Christmas, The Pirates! and Early Man just barely scraping back their production budget, while 2006’s Flushed Away was such a colossal flop that it effectively killed their partnership with Dreamworks Animation. But why is this the case? It’s certainly nothing to do with the quality of the work, as each of the aforementioned saw strong reviews from critics.
Rather, there appears to be an unfortunate stigma among audiences against the art form of stop-motion animation, as demonstrated by the similar financial struggles of fellow studio Laika. It too broke out with an initial hit, Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy Coraline in place of Chicken Run, but has seen diminishing returns in the years since. Their most recent flick, Missing Link, posted an estimated loss of $101 million despite a favourable response from the few people who did see it.
These recent developments paint a rather bleak picture for stop-motion in film – but television tells a different story altogether. In fact, Aardman has consistently found a solid audience on the telly, dating back to the early days when Wallace & Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers proved a hit for BBC Two, to more recent endeavours like ITV’s Creature Comforts and smash-hit children’s franchise Shaun the Sheep, which originated on CBBC.
The issue being that broadcasters generally don’t have enough cash lying around to fund a feature-length Aardman project (for context: 2018’s Early Man cost a hefty $50 million to produce). That’s where Netflix comes in. In order to continue making original films and shows, the streaming service has voluntarily accumulated dizzying amounts of debt and isn’t afraid to splash it around. Not only that, but it does so without the added pressure that comes with a reliance on box office receipts.
So how does Aardman perform on Netflix? The streaming service is famously protective over its viewing figures and declined a request for such information from RadioTimes.com. However, its acquisition of Chicken Run 2 from Pathé and StudioCanal suggests the Netflix-produced sixth series of Shaun the Sheep has been widely watched.
So yes, it’s a shame that for some strange reason movie-goers have generally rejected the brilliant work that Aardman has to offer. But rather than decry the loss for cinemas (which will eventually get a look-in on the Chicken Run sequel anyway), fans should just be pleased that the studio has found a home where its work is truly valued.
If Chicken Run 2 is a success, which seems likely given the fond nostalgia felt about the original, it’s not hard to imagine future Aardman projects debuting directly on Netflix too. Any means of the studio continuing its steady stream of charming family adventures is all good in my book.