I’m sure that kids who clamour to use mom’s/dad’s/close relative’s/older sibling’s tablet or phone will find plenty to love about The Angry Birds Movie. I’m also certain that it’s not going to mean a heck of a lot to anyone else. Awkward, problematic, and not very memorable, this big screen mounting of the phone app phenomenon does slightly more than the bare minimum. In some respects, when it comes to a cash-in like this, it’s mostly commendable (see also: the recently released and better Ratchet & Clank). But that doesn’t mean it’s worth recommending to anyone other than parents who want to switch on a movie at home with enough bright colours and silly antics to keep the little ones entertained for just over 90 minutes.
Set in a world where all birds are flightless, chronically perturbed Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) loses his job as a birthday party clown in spectacular fashion and is forced to attend anger management classes. Perpetually annoyed, Red refuses to listen to his chicken-like instructor (Maya Rudolph) and staves off offers of friendship from hyperactive classmates Chuck (Josh Gad) and the laid back, portly, and misunderstood Bomb (Danny McBride). But when this land of the birds is visited by a band of green pig invaders (led by Bill Hader) proposing a peaceful co-existence, Red seems to be the only person questioning the motives of the visitors. The social outcast will prove to be right, and it’s up to Red and his fellow angry birds to save their homeland, starting with the enlisting of the hero of all birds – Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) – to join the fight.
The humour here only knows two settings: puns and sarcasm. If neither of those is particularly your bag, the script from former Saturday Night Live and Simpsons writer Jon Vitti won’t offer viewers much of anything. While it’s a bold move to anchor a children’s film from the viewpoint of an unabashed, unrepentant cynic, it would have been nice for the characters to have actual jokes instead of borderline risqué humour, constant eye-rolling, and easily telegraphed punchlines. The only times the film attempts to cater to “adults” is via half a dozen veiled references to f-bombs and wildly out of touch soundtrack choices. Is Rick-rolling still funny? Is it still okay to use Limp Bizkit’s turgid cover of “Behind Blue Eyes” unironically? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you’re exactly the kind of adult The Angry Birds Movie is targeting, and you also need to get out more. The rest of you past the age of puberty will probably think the film’s funniest joke is getting Sean Penn to voice a character that does nothing beyond grunting.
Visually, first time directors but long-time animators Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly do some exceptionally detailed work. The look of the film is its best attribute, with the natural chemistry of the three leads running a close second. Rovio, the developer of the games, produced most of the animation, and kudos to them for making things look at least somewhat different from the games. They can’t help but include moments of dialogue in the film where characters literally explain how to play the game, but they at least try to do some things differently with how their characters look and operate.
But the thought and effort ends there. The Angry Birds Movie is stupid, but not in a particularly fun way. Take, for example, the film’s bizarre pandering to the American right wing. The piggish invaders are refugees who come to the birds’ island stowed away in a boat. They don’t particularly seem motivated to help better society, and they come bearing strange “devices.” Red chastises his fellow birds for “not asking the right questions” regarding the arrival of these visitors. Everything in quotes comes directly from the film, not my liberal media point of view, and this kind of message given our current worldwide refugee crisis seems as off-putting as it is dunderheaded.
Contradictorily, the pigs are also country music loving rednecks, a detail that suggests no one involved with this thought very much about what they did before they did it. The Angry Birds Movie asks that no thought be given, which is at least admirable of a film that required no thought to begin with. There’s something honest about that level of not giving a crap. That doesn’t make it a good film, but to some degree, begrudgingly respectable and honest.