The Angry Birds Movie
Calling The Angry Birds Movie an "animated film" is giving it airs. It's a cartoon. Deal with it.
Family-friendly motion pictures, whether live action or computer-drawn (the hand-drawn versions are no longer being made), fall into one of several categories. There are the top-of-the-line, premium productions that seek to compete for awards and engage viewers of all ages. There are the less ambitious (but still expensive) middle-of-the-road endeavors that cater primarily toward children while throwing older viewers a bone or two. Then there are the dreaded only-for-kids movies that become endurance contests for parents. The Angry Birds Movie fits into the middle category. For post-puberty audiences, it's not painful but neither is it anything to get excited about. It's fitfully entertaining but the degree of enjoyment is inversely proportional to the viewer's age. The movie shares a closer kinship with old-time Saturday morning TV fare than it does with a Pixar or Dreamworks big screen project.
Angry Birds games have been around since 2009 when they burst upon the scene to become one of the post popular mobile downloads. From a single app to a stable of brand-enhancing opportunities, Rovio has done everything possible to exploit and expand their empire. Some have called The Angry Birds Movie a "90 minute commercial" but that ignores the fact that people will see this movie because they have played the game, not the other way around. This is just the next logical extension for a franchise that wants to infiltrate pop culture on every level and remain relevant for as long as there's money to be made. The Angry Birds Movie is like the game - an opportunistic attempt to "strike while the iron is hot" that's devoid of elements that would give it an extended life.
The movie is surprisingly faithful to the game and that's one of its failings. While an app in which the user tosses birds at shabbily built structures can make for compelling play, it's somewhat limiting when it comes to crafting a narrative. The filmmakers do the best they can, compiling a rudimentary backstory, throwing in some music and action sequences, and giving the birds fleshed out personalities, but there's not enough here for a full length feature film - something that becomes obvious the longer the movie is on the screen.
The story isn't going to challenge anyone's ability to follow along, even if they walk out for an extended bathroom/snack break or take a nap. After introducing us to the film's three protagonists - Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), and Bomb (Danny McBride) - we're given a brief tour of Bird Island. When a pirate ship manned by green pigs and captained by the seemingly affable Leonard (Bill Hader) arrives, there are parties and talk of mutual trust and peaceful co-existence until the pigs steal all the birds' children (eggs) and rush back home to make a big omelet. The now-angry birds follow, intent not only on retrieving their as-yet unborn offspring but knocking down every building on Pig Island.
The lead trio, who are more fully rendered in the movie than in the game, retain their essential characteristics while having various personality traits amplified by the screenplay and as a result of their voice actors, all of whom are recognized real-life comedic figures. Red is sarcastic, prone to tantrums, and suspicious. Chuck is like a chicken on speed who does everything fast, including talking. And Bomb is slow to anger but remains true to his name when circumstances demand it. Other Angry Birds mainstays make appearances - Matilda (Maya Rudolph) and Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) in particular. There's also a really big, mean bird (who looks more like the mobile game Red than the movie Red) who has the distinction of being voiced by Sean Penn. Aside from Leonard, the pigs lack distinction and individuality.
To give The Angry Birds Movie its due, it looks nice in a generic, computer-generated way. Considering that the co-directors, Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, have backgrounds in animation (Kaytis having worked on a number of major Disney productions, starting with Pocahontas and extending through Frozen). The movie takes the landmarks and characters of the video game and expands them nicely for the big screen. (Note: I saw The Angry Birds Movie in 2-D so I can't comment on what 3-D adds, or doesn't add, to the experience.) The color palette is somewhat garish but that's in keeping with the production's overall aesthetic, which features some exceedingly bad, overproduced song-and-dance numbers that should have been left on the cutting room floor.
I doubt anyone venturing out to a theater to see The Angry Birds movie will have unreasonable expectations. It's the first major motion picture based on a mobile app and anticipating anything more than an ephemeral diversion would be unrealistic. It's solid entertainment for kids but not nearly as successful for adults (a few double entendres being the extent of the "mature" content). With Zootopia fading in the rearview mirror and Finding Dori still a few weeks away, it fills a niche. Asking more of this movie would be unfair - even if the cost of watching it is considerably higher than the cost of playing it.
© 2016 James Berardinelli