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Review: The Angry Birds Movie (2016)

The Angry Birds Movie (2016)

Directed by: Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly

Premise: Based on the video game. On an island populated by flightless birds, Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis) is a temperamental outcast. When a ship of pigs arrives on the island, the community embraces their new suidae friends but Red is suspicious.

What Works: The Angry Birds Movie was based on a video game that didn’t suggest a story. The game was simply an app in which players used a slingshot to fling birds at pigs and score points. To their credit, the filmmakers of The Angry Birds Movie managed to make a coherent story out of the game. Following the lead of The Lego Movie, they’ve taken the recognizable elements of the game and then placed them within the framework of popular movies. Like The Lego Movie, this is the story of an outcast whose uniqueness makes him the only one who can save the day. Red, the lead character voiced by Jason Sudeikis, lives in a community where everyone is happy and gets along but he is a malcontent with an anger management problem. When a boat of pigs arrives on the island, the newcomers dazzle the community with gifts and technology but Red remains unimpressed. Where a typical movie would probably place Red on the visitor’s side and make him the emissary that overcomes fear and prejudice, The Angry Birds Movie favors skepticism over blind acceptance and Red’s suspicion is eventually vindicated when it’s discovered that the pigs have stolen all of the bird eggs on the island. As the story progresses, The Angry Birds Movie also suggests that anger is not bad nor is it to be avoided but rather controlled and put to constructive use. That’s a more nuanced take on anger and emotion than we might expect from a typical kid’s picture and it is admirable that the filmmakers of The Angry Birds Movie put as much thought into this film as they did. 

What Doesn’t: All motion pictures exist on a continuum between art and industrial products. All commercial films, and especially major theatrical releases, have some corporate aspect to them. The Angry Birds Movie is more an industrial product than the average motion picture. This film exists not because there was an artistic compulsion to make it but as a way to add a new revenue stream to Angry Birds brand. Although it tells a coherent story, The Angry Birds Movie never shakes the nagging feeling that this is a feature length commercial. As a matter of filmmaking, The Angry Birds Movie struggles in its tone. The visual style is very Dora the Explorer; the simplistic design of the birds, the green skin of the pigs, and the bizarre technological contraptions look less like the visual sophistication viewers have come to expect from Pixar and DreamWorks Animation and much more like a Nickelodeon cartoon. However, the humor and storytelling do not match the visual style. The film’s humor, which isn’t very funny, is split between appealing to kids and older audiences. Red is a sarcastic outsider and some of his jokes are quite mature, setting up the film to appeal to teenage viewers, but the comedy is too timid to fully appeal to an older audience. But the movie isn’t tame enough to fully qualify as a kid’s film either. As a result, The Angry Birds Movie is a weird amalgamation of clashing elements that cancel each other out. On top of that, the characters of The Angry Birds Movie aren’t especially interesting. It is obvious where the story is going and there are few twists along the way. This is the tale of someone who suspects the worst in people and those suspicions are validated without having to face any obstacles or grow as a character. That’s very flat storytelling and there is a case to be made that The Angry Birds Movie actually reinforces xenophobia in that it is about an outside group (read: immigrants) invading your country and eating your children.  

Bottom Line: It’s doubtful that anyone who goes to see The Angry Birds Movie knowing the background of the property will have any illusions about what they are seeing. And as a commercial project, the film is actually better than it had to be. But it’s still a mediocre movie.

Episode: #597 (June 5, 2016)