Chicken Run 2: Why was Mel Gibson’s Rocky recast?

Rocky in the poster for Chicken Run 2 and Mel Gibson in Dragged Across ConcreteNetflix/Lionsgate

The first trailer for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget introduces us to a few of the recast characters, including Rocky, originally played by Mel Gibson – so why was the role changed for Chicken Run 2?

At the turn of the millennium, Aardman delivered its most eggscelent stop-motion delight: Chicken Run, revolving around a chicken coop’s coup against the pie-making, teeth-gnashing owner of a farm-turned-factory.

It was the inaugural motion picture from the studio, paving the way for Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Flushed Away. Yet, demand for a sequel to its first and best movie persisted, leading to an unexpected collaboration with Netflix.

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With the first trailer for Chicken Run 2 dropping today, fans feel their ears prick up when they hear Rocky’s voice – it’s not Mel Gibson, so why was he recast, and who’s playing the character this time?

Why was Mel Gibson’s Rocky recast in Chicken Run 2?

Mel Gibson wasn’t asked to return for Chicken Run 2, so Zachary Levi is playing Rocky instead.

Gibson was originally cast in Chicken Run shortly after Aardman’s Nick Park and Peter Lord met him at the Oscars. “He invited us for lunch to his cigar lunch and there we discovered he was a Wallace and Gromit fan and that was quite separate from choosing him to play Rocky,” Park told the BBC.

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“Later when we were watching Maverick, his character was not that far from Rocky. We tested his lines by stealing lines from Maverick and animating to his voice. We thought he would be perfect. You can’t audition Mel Gibson, you have to know you want him… I’m sure he’ll be offered more poultry roles after this.”

However, Gibson’s reputation in both Hollywood and the public eye took a major hit in the 2000s. While he’d been accused of homophobia in the late ’90s, he became the subject of controversy after anti-Semitic comments during a DUI arrest. He apologized, but in 2010, recordings of him using racist language were released publicly and his ex-wife Oksana Grigorieva filed for divorce after accusations of domestic violence. This, and we haven’t discussed the backlash to The Passion of the Christ.

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While he’s since directed and starred in movies, including the Oscar-nominated Hacksaw Ridge and Dragged Across Concrete, he’s by no means a mainstream star in modern pop culture.

When Chicken Run 2 was first announced, many were curious to see if Gibson would reprise his role, but it was confirmed in June 2020 that he wouldn’t be returning. Several commentators linked this to Winona Ryder, who’d then alleged that Gibson called her a Jewish “oven dodger” in 1995.

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According to Variety, sources indicated that Levi was chosen to replace Gibson “since the sequel will revolve around younger chickens, therefore [they chose] younger voice actors”, and it has nothing to do with his various controversies.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget hits Netflix on December 15, 2023. Find out more about the sequel here.

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