The dollar that I spent on the original Angry Birds app was probably the best entertainment dollar spent in terms of amount of entertainment per the investment. I easily spent hundreds of hours on that game and its sequels, and developer Rovio Entertainment continues to update them so that players like me are hooked forever. I knew going into the film translation — I can’t call it an adaptation — of the property that it would be nothing like the game and that the games were a jumping off point for a movie with a plot and characters. What I didn’t expect was an uneven animated film where the story and on-screen activity left me flapping in the wind until the better finale. In a franchise where aim is paramount to success, The Angry Birds Movie misses the mark and flies off into the woods.
The pedigree of the filmmakers brought a lot of promise to this project. Codirector Clay Kaytis has about 20 years of experience in the animation department of Disney films, while codirector Fergal Reilly matches those two decades of work in animated movies from various companies. Writer Jon Vitti’s experience includes writing for The Simpsons as well as The Simpsons Movie and the first two Alvin and the Chipmunks films. The problem with The Angry Birds Movie isn’t the talent involved or even the voice cast. Instead, there doesn’t seem to be more than a surface appreciation or understanding of the source material, which takes the story in a bad direction from the start before it rights itself like Hal the boomerang bird in the games.
Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is an antisocial loner who lives by himself on the beach far away from everyone else on Bird Island. When he botches his job as a clown delivering birthday cakes, he ends up in court before Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key), who sentences him to — I didn’t make this up — anger management class. Ugh. Run by Matilda (Maya Rudolph), the class also includes Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride) and Terence (an unrecognizable Sean Penn). The film wallows in these birds dealing with their feelings and brings back bad memories of Stuart Saves His Family. Fortunately, the driving force for the plot and the remainder of the movie arrives in the form of a ship carrying Leonard (Bill Hader) and lots of green pigs from Piggy Island. At first friendly, Leonard and his piggy pals are really after the birds’ eggs. They steal the eggs and sail back home with the residents of Bird Island united to retrieve the eggs. The film from here on out is more exciting and enjoyable than all that came before. The birds attack the pigs to retrieve their eggs, and the abilities of the various birds come into play in scenes that approach the game levels and, more importantly, the Rovio cartoons that show the proper way to animate the games’ characters.
The voice cast is led by Sudeikis with a kind of snarky performance that fits Red. I don’t know that Red is as angry as much as he is perpetually annoyed. Gad will always have a hard time of distancing himself from Olaf in Frozen, yet he does a fine job of that as the speedy Chuck. All of the voice actors seem to have been given the direction to have as much fun as possible because that comes through in their performances. McBride is always humorous, and I’m still surprised that Penn would even be in this film. Kate McKinnon is the only current Saturday Night Live cast member on board to join some of the famous alumni. Peter Dinklage has probably my favorite role as the Mighty Eagle, a character whose legend must have been achieved a long time ago since his current situation and physical shape pale in comparison. Tony Hale has a few roles, including a Mime who speaks more than some of the other birds. Listen for a variety of cameos, but some will be hard to identify without the credits in front of you. The filmmakers spared no expense in assembling such great voice talent, and that’s one saving grace for the film.
The animation is stunningly bright and detailed. A three-dimensional world for Red and his pals rivals any other animated film that you’re likely to see this year, so the quality of animation puts The Angry Birds Movie right near the top technologically. It’s important that the various birds and pigs have unique looks and personalities, and that fortunately extends throughout all of the inhabitants of the two Islands. Much was made in the promotion of the film about Red’s eyebrows, and I suppose that they are a strong facial element. I was more tickled by the hatchlings — little bundles of cuteness with great comedic potential. If they eventually make a sequel, I’d like to see more of the hatchlings involved in the eternal battles with the pigs.
You can’t have a movie based on a game without references to the original product. Although the reason for why there’s a slingshot is rather random, its use in the second half of the film makes sense. The birds retain their primary powers and skills from the games, so Bomb explodes when he gets angry and Chuck sails through the air for great distances. Stella and Hal appear, but the boss pigs and their punny names are missing in action. With challenges, action and excitement so much a part of the franchise, I enjoyed the second half so much more than Red’s touchy-feely story. The battle scenes lived up to my expectations, and the birds working in unison is about where the film should have begun. Angry Birds Action! is the newest game to join the family, and its graphics look lifted right from the movie. If you take your mobile device to the theater and enable the microphone in the app only during the credits, you unlock Piggy Island immediately.
I still haven’t given up on the possibility of a really good Angry Birds movie. The filmmakers should avoid the lazy, obvious gags and plot elements and instead strive to send the birds on missions or adventures that fit their personalities and abilities. Adults will appreciate some of the references and use of sound-alike words for curse words, yet the film is ultimately aimed too young to entertain the age range of people playing the games. The amusing credits inject some of the expected level of humor, but at that point, I had already too often exclaimed, “What the flock!”