Since the Angry Birds game release in 2009 it has become a pop-culture phenomenon. The game being downloaded 12 million times within ten months. It has been licensed to be made into toys and theme park attractions, been turned into a Finnish TV series and now made into a Hollywood film. But can a simple game be made into a compelling movie?
Red (Jason Sudeikis) is a short-tempered bird who lives in a tropical paradise. But after one incident too many Red is sentenced to anger management, spending his free time with the other misfit birds – Chuck (Josh Gad), a super-fast, inpatient bird, Bomb (Danny McBride) who blows up if upset or startled and Terence (Sean Penn) a very menacing large bird that doesn’t say much. When the pigs lead by Leonard (Bill Hader) land on the bird island he offers the hand of friendship, Red is the only bird who does not trust the new visitors and along with Chuck and Bomb, Red sets out to find the legendary Mighty Eagle to figure out how to get rid of the green-skinned swine.
Video games have a notorious reputation for being poorly translated onto the big screen. Even the best adaptations like Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill are either bang-average or only obtain a cult audience. Angry Birds has a thin premise, some limbless birds being flung at poorly constructed buildings to kill some limbless pigs. This shows in the movie as it tries to pad itself to run over 90 minutes. The movie has to use a number of montages and fantasy cutaways to extend itself – which proves that this product was devoid of ideas. Once or twice is okay but the movie relies on these techniques too much.
The Angry Birds Movie was written by Jon Vitti who has an impressive TV resume working on shows like The Simpsons, The Critic and the American version of The Office. But his filmography is not something to shout about – the only movies he has worked on being two Alvin and the Chipmunks sequels. Vitti and directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly (making their directional debut) give the movie a Looney Toons, slapstick – characters can shake off explosions to the face and be thrown into buildings without much problem. But because of the thin story, the movie would have worked better as a series of shorts than a feature film. The movie also suffers the curse that inflicts a lot of family movies – a reliance on using pop-culture gags that will date the movie quickly – such as references to photobombing, Instagram and things like Fifty Shades of Grey. The movie references The Shining, something that younger members of the audience are not likely to know. These sort of things are just lazy attempts to appeal to the adults in the audiences.
Red’s story arch is a little like Shrek in his first movie – he is an outsider who lives away from the rest of society and loses his home because of some outside force. Like the green ogre Red has anger issues and The Angry Birds Movie shares the Shrek movies fondness for pop culture humor.
The Angry Birds Movie does have an impressive voice cast and despite the film being a blatant cash-grab, the actors actually put effort into their performances. The main trio were perfectly fine, Sudeikis being the put-upon Red but still being sardonic, Gad has form playing animated characters – this time being a maniac but annoying ball of energy and McBride was a loveable lug. Peter Dinklage was a fun presence as the egotistical Mighty Eagle – he was basically a Zapp Branagan like figure and Dinklage was a lot more committed to playing the bird than he was playing a robot in Destiny. Maya Rudolph was the other major actor, playing a good-natured hippie who finds it difficult to deal with Red’s cynicism. Rudolph has some decent comedic timing, but the character was unremarkable.
The animation is of a good standard – it was bright and colorful, and there is great detail on the birds with their feathers. It was fluid, working particularly well when the movie is like the game where the birds are slingshot at the pigs’ hometown. It’s not Pixar or Dreamworks level, but there was talent that worked on the movie. The animation on the pigs was the weak point because they looked too smooth and simple compared to the details on the birds.
The Angry Birds Movie is a cash-in that has come too late: Angry Birds has passed the peak of its popularity. The film adaptation could easily have been a lot worst considering the flimsy source material, but there was some effort put into the production. In the end, this is a movie that has little reason or merit for it to exist.