Angry Birds is still one of the popular video games out there, at least according to the iTunes store, where it sits at #16 on the most downloaded apps list. And yet it feels like the game has faded from the zeitgeist in favor of other casual gaming trends like Heads Up and Candy Crush. But since it takes a while to animate films, we’re now stuck with The Angry Birds Movie, a film that struggles to reach its meager 90-minute runtime with bland jokes, unlikable characters, and a muddled subtext. It’s a movie that strains for laughs and relevance in equal measure, and rarely comes away with either.
On an island inhabited by flightless birds, all is well and peaceful except for Red (Jason Sudeikis), a cynical malcontent who chooses to live by himself. When Red is sentenced to anger management classes, he meets the speedy Chuck (Josh Gad), the literally explosive Bomb (Danny McBride), and the taciturn Terence (Sean Penn), but still remains aloof. The island gets turned upside down with the arrival of the pigs, led by Leonard (Bill Hader), who pretends that his people come in peace, but Red is highly suspicious of these newcomers, and as anyone who has played the games will tell you, his suspicions are well-founded.
Except in a game, you don’t overthink the mechanics or the framing device. Why does a mushroom cause Mario to grow? Why does Sonic need to collect rings? Why are pigs the enemies of birds? A movie narrative needs to fill in gaps, but narrative also brings subtext, and the subtext of The Angry Birds Movie is poorly considered. It makes Red out to be the hero, when Red’s behavior is anything but heroic. It’s one thing to think critically about matters, but Red is presented as a cynic and also kind of xenophobic. We’re just on his side because we know the pigs are the bad guys in the game, but the game should be irrelevant to our enjoyment of the film since a movie needs to stand on its own.
But the game is the whole reason for the movie existing, and it hopes to coast on the goodwill you may have built up from the hours you whiled away pulling back a slingshot and shooting birds into piles of TNT. Like most film adaptations of video games, The Angry Birds Movie suffers from a thin plot that no one bothered to flesh out because there was nothing the source material could offer. That’s why there’s long stretches of The Angry Birds Movie that don’t further the plot but instead feature Red, Chuck, and Bomb engaging in various shenanigans like their anger management class or climbing mountains so they can seek the advice of the only bird that can fly, Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage).
While one could argue that plot shouldn’t matter so much at a film targeted towards kids, we know that the mark of a quality family film is one that should appeal to the whole family. The Angry Birds Movie, judging by the long silences at my screening, appeals to no one, not even the kids in the audience who probably aren’t the proper age for puns like “Pluck my life,” and “Get flocking angry.” The humor is all over the place, and it’s a film where they hope that shaking a pig’s butt or drinking pee-filled water will get the easy laughs from the youngest viewers while the adults in the audience count the second until they can leave.
I don’t know if the moment for an Angry Birds movie has passed, but that should be irrelevant if you have a proper script and strong direction. Sadly, The Angry Birds Movie has neither. All it has is painfully mixed metaphors about how to treat strangers and unfunny jokes. It’s a time waster rather than a time killer.
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