Good news for Chicken Run fans: a sequel is coming to Netflix, as announced last month. Bad news for Julia Sawalha: the British actress won’t be returning as the voice of Ginger, the original film’s plucky heroine. In a statement posted on Twitter, Sawalha claims that the reason for her dismissal is that her voice now sounds “too old.”
The actress, who is 51, writes that she wasn’t even given the chance to do a voice test. When she was told the reason (via her agent), she contacted Aardman Animations, the U.K. studio behind the Chicken Run films. She quotes their response: “‘Some of the voices (not yours, I agree) definitely sound older,’ however they had also confirmed, ‘We will be going ahead to re-cast the voice of Ginger.'”
Sawalha added: “Let’s be frank, I feel I have been unfairly dismissed. To say I am devastated and furious would be an understatement.” Undeterred, she recorded a voice test anyway, and uploaded it in a video that compares her voice now and as it was in the original film (which came out in 2000). She argues that there’s barely any difference. You can access the video at this link. Here is her statement:
— Julia Sawalha (@JuliaSawalha1) July 9, 2020
Additionally, it was recently confirmed that Mel Gibson, who voiced the original’s co-lead Rocky, will also be recast. Since 2000, Gibson has been regularly associated with anti-Semitic, homophobic, and other offensive comments, and recent allegations by Winona Ryder have renewed these controversies. Some speculate that this is why he was dismissed. Sawalha, however, claims that he too was considered to sound “too old.”
The fates of the rest of the Chicken Run cast are still unclear. We’re wondering who else Sawalha’s correspondent at Aardman meant by “some of the voices.” The studio has been contacted for comment, but hadn’t responded as of Friday afternoon.
We’re reminded of a comment by Peter Lord, Aardman co-founder and Chicken Run co-director, about the original casting of Sawalha. In the book Aardman: An Epic Journey, Taken One Frame at a Time, Lord — who is executive-producing the sequel — is quoted as saying: “We loved her youthfulness and vulnerability and intensity.”
Aardman has an interesting relationship with voice acting. It made a name for itself in the 1970s and 1980s with a series of shorts based on unscripted dialogue by non-actors — a fairly novel technique at the time. The most famous example is the Oscar-winning Creature Comforts.
The studio’s most iconic character, Wallace, was voiced by actor Peter Sallis well into his eighties. For the feature Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Jeffrey Katzenberg — whose studio Dreamworks was co-producing — reportedly wanted to replace Sallis with a younger, more famous actor. Aardman resisted.
The Chicken Run sequel is directed by Sam Fell, an Aardman veteran who co-directed the studio’s feature Flushed Away, as well as Laika’s Paranorman. Full production is due to begin in 2021.