Most disappointing about The Angry Birds Movie is that it disproves the notion that all modern animated films are rich and wonderful gems. It’s easy to stay blind to that reality after being spoiled by the continual impressive output from the likes of Pixar, GKIDS, Studio Ghibli, and Disney Animation. But lest we forget, even bright, colorful, well-meaning, family-oriented cartoons can land with a thud, and for proof, look no further than The Angry Birds Movie.
On second thought, don’t. Just take my word for it and go do something more valuable with your day. No reason to encourage innocents to willfully engage in cinematic suffering. Films based on video games have been historically notorious for their lack of quality, though we’ve now reached a new era when a mobile app game gets the silver screen treatment. And the results are…almost precisely as forced, thin, and cringe-worthy as one would imagine.
I don’t want to say The Angry Birds Movie is soul-crushing…but it certainly does put an inordinate amount of undue pressure on the soul. Every joke falls spectacularly flat. Each caricature is hollow and/or mildly offensive. What flimsy “story” there is exists to backwards-justify the sling-shotting of the eponymous birds into ramshackle pig fortresses. Because, of course – that’s the game, after all. But even acknowledging the kinds of narrative contortions it takes in order to manufacture a scenario which would result in bird-catapulting, there’s got to be more organic or compelling execution than what’s struck upon here.
Basically, the birds are, ya know, angry. At least a few of them are, specifically Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), who operates on a hair-trigger because…he lives alone in an ugly house? Red is the sort of smart aleck intended to bring grown-ups into the fold, but is delivered as a hateful jerk who throws off the film’s tone from frame one. After throwing a fit at a young birdie’s birthday party (in an opening scene of excruciating would-be humor), Red is sentenced to anger management by the town’s black stereotype judge (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key). There he meets more awkwardly wedged characters some will recognize from the game – the speedy yellow one, now pitched as a manic psychopath voiced by Josh Gad, and the one that looks like a bomb, portrayed as a bumbling friendly oaf voiced by Danny McBride. His weaponized feature is, indeed, the ability to explode… although how he generates explosions while not actively blowing himself to smithereens is beyond the film’s explanatory grasp.
It wouldn’t be an Angry Birds enterprise without ugly green pigs to destroy – and this is a good time to note that any of the game’s conceipts become automatically uncomfortable when expanded into narrative form, where they must be explicated beyond a token hypothetical concept. In the case of the pigs, they arrive via boat, lull the birds into a trance with country music (their most egregious and unforgivable transgression), and proceed to gluttonously thieve all natural resources. Squeezed into the painful comic confines of Jon Vitti’s screenplay is a message about reckless overconsumption, but it’s hard for something like that to take hold amid repeated jokes about pig farts and bird urination.
The Angry Birds Movie, as the first app-to-screen adaptation, is something of a trailblazer, for better or worse…likely the latter. The challenges of stretching a mobile game into a feature film are similarly impossible to the challenges of adapting an SNL sketch, and the irony that this expansive voice cast features a handful of SNL alums (Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph among them) shouldn’t be lost on anyone. But any narrative stretches could potentially be acceptable – especially in an animated fantasy universe – if the film were at all funny or even remotely engaging. That is this film’s most glaring flaw – it’s a complete dead zone, designed solely as a commodity rather than a movie. Families go the theater, buy popcorn and candy, and sit together looking up at the screen, but they’d have a more fulfilling experience if they could tap the screen and fling the birds across it.