The much awaited sequel to the 2000 animated blockbuster ‘Chicken Run’ has been caught up in a controversial ageism row, after former cast member Julia Sawalha revealed that she has been cut from the upcoming movie Chicken Run 2 without being given the chance to re-audition.
Julia voiced one of the film’s main character’s, Ginger, and appeared alongside Mel Gibson, who took the lead as the magnificent star Rocky. It has also been revealed that Gibson’s role is also being recast for the sequel, with Gibson now approaching 65 years old. That said, male voices have typically stood the test of time in a way that female voices have sadly not.
Julia took to social media to voice her clear frustration after she revealed that her agent had received an email to tell her that the role of Ginger was being recast for the sequel. Usually when there is a sequel that includes the same characters, the original actor is asked to submit a ‘voice test’, just to ensure that they still hold the same sound and qualities needed for the character. In this case, Julia has categorically stated that she had not been asked to submit a voice test, but instead was told her voice was now ‘too old’ for the character, and that they wanted to recast a younger actress for the role. Keen to prove that this was not the case, she submitted her own voice test in which she read lines from the original movie. Her response was acknowledged and a producer came back to her to say that whilst they agreed she didn’t sound any older, they were still going to go ahead with recasting the role.
Julia, who is now 51 years old, is a successful actor and voice artist who is best known for her role as the long suffering ‘Saffy’ in the TV series Absolutely Fabulous which aired between 1992 and 2012. Having been an extremely successful sitcom in the UK with over 50 episodes produced, she returned to the role in 2016 for the much awaited ‘Ab Fab movie’, which brought in $37.9 million at the box office; remarkably successful for a British sitcom movie.
In comparison, Chicken Run’s release in 2000 was extremely well received internationally, grossing $106,834,564 domestically with an additional $118,000,000 overseas. Given the production budget of $45 million, it remains the highest grossing stop motion animated movie to date. It is therefore no surprise that news of the sequel has been met with much excitement, including from Julia, who has told her fans that in the words of Ginger, she feels well and truly ‘plucked, stuffed & roasted’.
Fans have naturally run to Julia’s defence, saying that she is part of the Chicken Run legacy, urging producers to reconsider and some calling for people to boycott the movie in protest. There are always strong reactions to the changing of key characters both on TV and on the big screen and voice artists are no different. Some have argued that the very nature of an animated movie means that issues of ageism should actually be avoided. Despite the movie sequel coming some 20 years after the original, the fact that it is completely animated means that the age of the actors is pretty irrelevant. That said, Julia has a naturally young sounding voice, and always has. This has not changed even though she is in her early 50s and recent interviews with her are testament to this. Julia herself has said that she feels in her ‘gut’ that something was not right with the way the decision was made and that there was more to the situation than simply wanting a ‘younger voice’.
The production team at Chicken Run 2 have yet to release a response and are keeping tight lipped about the story, which has now appeared on an ever growing number of news and entertainment sites. Julia’s outburst is unlikely to result in her reprising the role of Ginger in the sequel, as usually once these decisions have been made they are not retracted, unless there is a major change in the director or production teams. However, she has stated that if they go ahead and use some of the original cast members, she will have no option but to feel that she has been unfairly dismissed.
Chicken Run 2 is expected to start production next year and will be screened in both cinemas and on Netflix, according to various sources. This means that there is of course still time and the continued pressure on the entertainment industry to tackle ageism could lead to a surprising twist in the plot. I’ve certainly got my fingers crossed that Julia will be given the opportunity to continue Ginger’s legacy, but whether this will become a reality remains to be seen.