As part of the Great App Revolution, Rovio’s Angry Birds helped turn mobile gaming into a viable industry, using oddly violent cartoon characters and a bafflingly simple premise to addict a generation. Chances are you’ve downloaded the game, or know someone who has, at some point over the past few years. Its impact on mobile culture is undeniable and, like it or not, Angry Birds will forever be part of the industry’s lexicon.
Although it’s not quite as popular as it once was, a property that’s amassed more than 2 billion downloads since 2009 doesn’t just go away. So now that’s it’s dominated lunch boxes, t-shirts, and smartphones, what’s next? Movies, apparently. Whose bright ideas was this, anyway?
When The Angry Birds Movie was announced, I responded the same way 99 percent of the sane world did: Are you serious?! How can such a dull premise be turned into a feature-length movie? And one that’s fun, no less? Well, maybe it was the popcorn, but you’ll be surprised to hear the film isn’t as bad as you were expecting.
Its straightforward premise is what allows it to—excuse me—soar. Screenwriter Jon Vitti, not constrained by any existing storylines, is free to build on the universe established in the games, creating something that’s goofy, if incredibly cliche. It’s certainly simple-minded, but that’s where it derives its charm. And from potty humor; there’s plenty of that, too.
Set on Bird Island, Red (Jason Sudeikis) is a reclusive, temperamental outcast who doesn’t reflect the chipper attitude of the rest of his colony. After a particularly unfortunate temper tantrum, he’s sentenced to anger management class, where he meets Chuck (Josh Gad), who is fast, Bomb (Danny McBride), who explodes, and Terence (Sean Penn), a hulking red bird who grunts and growls his way through the entire movie. Never does the movie explain why Chuck, Bomb and Terence are in anger management, only that they are “different.”
One day, their quaint existence on Bird Island is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Leonard (Bill Hader) and his ship full of green pigs. Of course, Red is the only one who sees through Leonard’s diabolical charm, but when he confronts the devious leader, Red is humiliated in front of the Bird Island residents and is left to retreat back to his home.
Not long after, however, Leonard and his shipmates slyly steal every egg on the island, leaving the community of Bird Island reeling. This is the movie’s perfunctory way of imitating the games, in which pigs steal the eggs, birds get angry and then seek revenge. Sure, it’s simple, but the film still manages to infuse the world with a few good chuckles, even providing Red with a semblance of an arc.
Now, don’t go in expecting Pixar-levels of charm and sophistication. While The Angry Birds Movie is entertaining, it doesn’t even get close to the worst Pixar has to offer, relying too often on cliche gags and generic punchlines. Everything is recycled to the point of nausea, and not everything makes sense. To that end, the film puts out a lot of mixed messages, particularly about immigration and war (if you want to analyze it that way). At least the voice cast is solid, featuring a who’s who of comedy, including Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Peter Dinklage, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale and more.
Even if it’s not the most inventive, the film is a visual treat and I have no doubt children will eat it up, especially the third act, which is full of mayhem and destruction, mirroring what made the game such a phenomenon. However, if you’re part of the crowd who stopped caring about the Angry Birds franchise years ago, there’s no reason to go check it out.