by Philip Price
Walking into this feature length film based on, not even a legit video game, but an app I had no idea what to expect or what type of story this thing might entail. That said, I didn't expect much from “The Angry Birds Movie” and so to find out that it wasn't a complete waste of time, but in fact pretty funny in certain spots and put together with a fair amount of competence and investment that it delivered lush visuals and entertaining characters was nothing short of a pleasant surprise. In reality, this is a movie that epitomizes an inconsequential piece of entertainment, as it is neither important nor significant by any stretch of the imagination. What “The Angry Birds Movie” does well enough though, is serve the purpose for which it was created and that is to keep the kiddos and fans of the game entertained for a brief 90 minutes on a weekend afternoon. Having never played the game I can't really speak to how well the film integrates the elements of the game or if these are done in natural, organic ways as opposed to being shoehorned in for the sake of hitting the more popular elements of the game, but as far as story is concerned the premise that is set up with our three main protagonists is more or less an excuse to have the climactic third act of the film be a more detailed version of watching the computer play a round of the game for you. This isn't really an issue-it's kind of the point after all, but in doing this the question that arose was if the characters we're introduced to are interesting enough to care about when it comes time for them to risk their lives potentially knocking down a pig city. Do we care about what is being risked, what is potentially being destroyed, or what is being sought after? For the most part, the answer is a fine enough yes. There is no reason to become emotionally invested in these proceedings and there is certainly no need to become frustrated with the expected beats this redemption story hits, but in tackling this particular kind of story the film hits the beats well enough that you're willing to go along for the ride, listen to the pop-infused soundtrack, and smile against your better judgement when pop culture references are made for no apparent reason or every time Jason Sudeikis has to spout a bad bird pun.
Sudeikis plays a bird named Red who is among the few actual angry birds on an island full of birds. After an incident at a child's birthday party Red is sentenced to anger management under the instruction of Matilda (Maya Rudolph). There he meets Chuck (Josh Gad) who is either on a whole ton of drugs or is a mutant a la Quicksilver in the bird world. There is also Bomb (Danny McBride) who is a large bird that resembles the object he's named after and even explodes when pushed to certain limits. Rounding out the group is the mammoth Terence (Sean Penn) who does little more than grunt and make eyes at Matilda, but gets a fair amount of laughs for doing so. While none of these birds are particularly interested in the advice or projects Matilda has to offer them in terms of coping with their anger issues these once frowned upon qualities come in handy when Bird Island is suddenly colonized by a group of creepy green pigs led by Leonard (Bill Hader). When it turns out that the pigs have come to the island for one reason and one reason only it is up to Red, Chuck, and Bomb to use their anger to save the day as the rest of their fellow birds are too naive to see what is actually happening. Like I said, the story beats are predictable and you can see where this thing is going from a mile away, but the main trio of birds find a good enough groove that you begin to root for them while the remainder of the cast is fleshed out by such top notch comedic talent as Keegan-Michael Key (unrecognizable as the condescending Judge Peckinpah), Kate McKinnon and Hannibal Buress as the parents of the traumatized birthday bird at the beginning of the film, and Peter Dinklage, Tony Hale, Ike Barinholtz, as well as Titus Burgess filling out the rest of the cast. The downside to having so much talent on hand is that most of these performers aren't given nearly enough to do as the slim 97-minute narrative can barely support the quest of our trio to discover...well, that's another slight issue with the film. There is a plot, but the movie has nothing to say. Not that an animated children's film based off an app has to necessarily be about something, but no matter if the intent is there or not-a message is sent to viewers and in the case of “The Angry Birds Movie” I'm not sure where to come down.
Whereas something like “Inside Out” addresses the need for an emotion like sadness to more fully appreciate the moments of pure joy that occur in our lives Angry Birds has birds with anger issues becoming the heroes simply because they can harness their anger in the right direction when the opportunity arises. To be fair, the movie does attempt to give Red an arc where he has felt abandoned and alone for the majority of his life with his initiation into the anger management classes being the catalyst that allows him to make genuine friends that understand his frustrations. This is largely conveyed through Sudeikis' sarcastic remarks and general disdain for everyone around him whereas much of the comedy comes from both Chuck and Bomb being unwilling to leave Red alone. There is also a storyline concerning a Mighty Eagle myth that Red worships as something like a God-like figure, but even this metaphor turns out to be little more than another reason for Red to believe in himself rather than placing his trust in idols set up by society. I guess there is a lesson to be gleamed there if one so chooses, but more than anything these deviations in what already feels like a meandering story don't help with the pacing. What saves the slim narrative from dragging more often than not is the films tendency to ride the line between being annoying, but simultaneously relentless with its comedy that more works than doesn't allowing much to be forgiven. Probably too much, but with major contributions from Gad the comedy is delivered at such break-neck speeds that one can't help but to gloss over some of the pacing issues. Other highlights include the fact the film affords Danny McBride to be more endearing in his role than what he's usually typecast as in his live action roles. Hader is as much of a chameleon as ever with his Leonard conveying a tone of pure condescension masked by a fake empathy. While he is immediately designed to strike audiences as a callous villain Hader gives him shades of charm that make us hope we might be wrong about what his true intentions are. Much of the same could be said about Dinklage's performance as this washed-up hero who's forgotten what made him laudable in the first place whereas I'd just like to know how much Penn was paid to contribute a few grunts and groans.
And so, “The Angry Birds Movie” is fine for what it is and little more. There are moments of odd inappropriateness at the expense of trying to appeal to both children and adults, but the adult jokes aren't subtle enough to go over the heads of the children to the point they won't be asking questions and repeating things later. The soundtrack is also all over the place. While there are the expected inclusions of relevant pop acts of today such as Demi Lovato doing, "I Will Survive," and Blake Shelton contributing not only a song, but some voice work as well as tracks by Charli XCX and Imagine Dragons there is also random bits of Tone Loc, Rick Astley and Limp Bizkit thrown in. Yes, you read that correctly-Limp Bizkit. I wouldn't mind these sporadic choices as much if more of them pertained to the story or felt justified in some way, but it mostly feels like they had a certain budget for music on the picture and spent it all on major hits they knew were recognizable and might garner a chuckle rather than songs that might further push the emotional beats of the story or characters. Still, there is just as much to like about “The Angry Birds Movie” as there is to complain about. The music and character choices may be obvious, but it is clear the filmmakers were intent on using some interesting and fun techniques to convey their story. Whether it be the time lapse sequence that is beautifully rendered to show younger viewers how one might convey a story point or comedic element through different methods or the breathtaking sequence I wish they hadn't given away in the trailers where Chuck flies through multiple rooms in a castle wall giving more depth and scope to the events of the game-they're great. And so, “The Angry Birds Movie” is fine for what it is and little more. There is no harm in catching this wholly forgettable flick on an afternoon in May, but by no means does it seem to compel audiences to want to see more of this world which is what I have to believe Sony and Columbia Pictures were hoping for. If this breaks out you can be sure we'll see more app adaptations coming down the pipeline, but let us only hope that if this indeed turns out to be true that future movies are more in the vein of “The LEGO Movie” than “The Angry Birds Movie.”