The Angry Birds Movie is the dictionary definition of an electronic babysitter. Your child could sit in front of the TV with the sound turned off and, aside from missing a dozen or so decent pop culture quips that they’re too young to get, anyway, they’d be entertained by the bright colors and 3D animation. They may not learn any lessons, or walk away with a better understanding of the human condition, but for 90 plus minutes, they are out of your hair.
The film itself has a decent pedigree behind the scenes — Jon Vitti of The Simpsons and Ice Age fame wrote the script, two former Disney animators are directing. It al has an amiable cast of voice actors: Jason Sudekis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Peter Dinklage. But what this movie truly lacks is imagination, along with a legitimate reason to exist.
Fans who love the game will wonder why anyone wasted their time creating a whole backstory around it (aren’t those app-only “Toons” good enough?). Those who adore quality family entertainment will like the technological bells and whistles but even they can’t fully make-up for a significant lack of depth or design. Zootopia had a powerful subtext. So did Inside Out. The Angry Birds Movie has an extended scene of urination (you read that right, urination) to guide the young ones through the tough years.
Granted, not every film is supposed to be a learning lecture disguised as fun. But when you compete with those who find a way to weave a message into the mirth, who consistently create Oscar worthy watching, you either match that benchmark or get belittled for a lack thereof. Okay, so there might be a bit of anti-immigration attitude going on during the initial phases of the story, but the film fails to fully commit to it, so the change for a lesson in tolerance is lost. As it is, we get a weird dynamic where nothing means anything except to send the viewer away going “I didn’t know Red was the leader?”
Actually, Red (Sudekis) is a bit of a rebel. He’s united with Chuck (Gad) and Bomb (McBride) in his belief that an arriving shipment of pigs, led by Leonard (Hader) and his assistant Ross (Tony Hale) are bad news. Turns out the rogue hogs are there to steal the birds’ eggs. No one believes our hero and his buddies, when they try to warn the other birds. And then suddenly the other birds do believe them.
So they all join forces to “let their anger loose” and attack Piggie Island, where the dastardly bacon has taken the hatchlings. Stuff similar to what happens in the game ensues. There’s some more too it, unfortunately, including Peter Dinklage’s Mighty Eagle who needs a self-esteem boosting hero moment to make everything right in the VR world.
Considering how many family films are released each year that don’t even come close to making the cut, the fact that The Angry Birds Movie is not really awful is good news. Frankly, that’s about as good as it gets. Yes, the voice work is welcoming and the animation is top notch, but there’s a hollow core here, the taint of merchandising tie-ins laced with jumping on the latest (two-year-old) fad to find a bit of Summer season pay dirt. This film is nothing but brightly-colored eye candy, guaranteed to sate your cinematic sweet tooth temporarily before the reality of what you’re watching sinks in. It’s all just empty calories.
The story does center around a minor thread of intolerance, but Red’s anti-pig stance is actually correct. The chubby green goofs aren’t mistaken visitors looking to explore. They’re thieves. And possibly killers. So hating on them initially only to be proven right later is a bit of a letdown. It’s like calling “wolf” an hour before it actually arrives. In between there are set-pieces, moments of genius, some awkward antics, and the knowledge that nothing here is meant to last longer than the time it takes to download the next app.
By the third act we need something to alleviate the boredom, and this is one of the few places where The Angry Birds Movie kind of, sort of, works. When the us vs. them element is introduced — including several nods to those who’ve immersed themselves in the whole Angry Birds game play mythos — the slingshot / trampoline attacks are well executed and not gratuitous. They’re also a bit rudimentary even with all the pops and whizzes flying by. It’s the recognition, and the pre-knowledge of what’s going to happen, that appeals to some viewers.
The kiddies will love it. For adults, The Angry Birds Movie isn’t much fun.