If you're going to see one movie based on a gaming franchise this year...it probably shouldn't be this one.
The Angry Birds movie is not funny. It maintains a frantic pace, and it never lets up from desperately wanting you to laugh--there's hardly a second that goes by without some form of over-the-top slapstick, clumsy pun, or ineffective background visual gag. The themes and juvenile humor are clearly aimed at a very young audience, but some jokes are a little too edgy to recommend for the very young, while none of the ideas have enough bite to register as subversive satire. Angry Birds is instead, an unintentional copy of the mobile game it's based on: a short, forgettable time-waster.
The Angry Birds mobile app is a physics-based game centered on flinging birds into rickety obstacles in an attempt to knock down spherical pigs, collect eggs, and score points. It's an odd choice for a feature-length film, but to its credit, the movie embraces the colorful, eclectic visuals of the game and translates them into appealing 3D models. But its scattered attempts to create a grounded story fall as flat as the movie's jokes.
The colorful cast share the same names, appearance, and abilities as their counterparts in the game: Red (Jason Sudeikis) is the recognizable candy-apple colored protagonist is the central "angry bird." Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad, who reprises the same voice and characteristics as his Olaf character from Frozen) is a yellow, triangular bird that can move with incredible speed. And Bomb (Danny McBride) occasionally, though unintentionally, explodes.
The movie starts with Red sentenced to what is touted as, for some unclear reason, the worst punishment for birds on the island--anger management class. But outside of Red's occasionally somewhat annoyed attitude, he never registers as a character filled with unchecked rage. And the other birds mentioned above make even less sense in an anger rehabilitation center.
In an attempt to give more backstory to the otherwise one-dimensional characters (most of their traits, after all, were decided for gameplay and not storytelling reasons) Red is given an overly sentimental history as a friendless orphan, an emotionally exploitative explanation that rings hollow. It feels like an attempt to bypass injecting Red with any real character by using some unbelievable storytelling shorthand.
Red's life, like the rest of the Angry Birds world, simply lacks weight or even logic. There's an extended joke early in the film where Red is caught in "traffic," and he has to impatiently wait as slow-moving groups use the crosswalk in front of him. But, he's just walking not driving around in some vehicle. And the area he's waiting to pass is on a massive thoroughfare where he'd have plenty of room to walk around both the slower moving cross-walkers and the one traffic attendant blocking his path.
Angry Birds fails to establish a believable world for its cast, but part of that is also due to its reliance on the game it's based on; the movie is unable to weave together the elements that define the game or story in any kind of coherent way. Green pigs show up, led by their smarmy leader Leonard (Bill Hader), and they deliver gifts of...a massive slingshot and trampolines. Soon the island is also filled with fast-moving vehicles and boxes of TNT as the pigs set about their plan to steal the birds' eggs. But beyond the nonsensical gifts, the plot seems to establish the pigs as a foreign force that invades, uses up an area's resources, and then moves on to clean out a new, virgin place.
But that's not the case--the pigs are simply there to collect and consume eggs. The pigs' kingdom, on a separate far-off island, is equally green and pristine. The only difference from the birds' island is that the pigs' houses are built on rickety, ready-to-fall wooden structures that'll be familiar to anyone who's played the game.
Spoilers for the incredibly predictable ending of the movie follow below.
The movie ends with a face-off at those headquarters--a recreation of the game with the birds using the slingshot to catapult themselves in while toppling over the pig's precariously built houses. Eventually explosions level the entire pig city, and the birds escape the carnage, but they voice concerns that Red might have died in the ensuing destruction (though they're oddly fine with the complete genocide of the pig race). But, of course, Red survives because he was surrounded by a massive metal cauldron. This is a children's movie, so every pig survives too. There are no negative consequences, nothing was ever really at stake, and everything goes back to normal.
Even from a parent's perspective, it's hard to recommend the seemingly kid-friendly Angry Birds. The slapstick humor is clearly cartoony violence, but at the same time, the constant pratfalls and fighting make up the core of the movie's humor and problem solving. Red learns to control his anger at the end, even though there's no earlier point in the movie where he seems unable to keep his feelings in check. And in some ways, the movie celebrates that anger, both as a way to stand out and be different, and a way to unlock characters' potential. And that's ignoring the entire undercurrent of distrusting foreigners and reaffirming that if your first impression of someone isn't positive, that's probably correct. "It's important to be different, as long as you're all born in the same place," the movie seems to say.
When jokes aren't focused on characters' biology or bodily harm, they toss out embarrassing, falsely edgy lines like, "Pluck my life." Puns that will only encourage mischievous kids to repeat them (because they're very aware with what they're getting to say). It's a sense of humor tailor-made for a snickering pre-teen audience. Any younger, and it becomes inappropriate. Any older, and it leads to gratuitous eye-rolling.
Watching Angry Birds, it's hard not to draw mental comparisons to this year's vastly superior animal film Zootopia. Not just because they both deal with issues of belonging--though Zootopia message of inclusiveness is the opposite of Angry Birds affirmation of xenophobia. Both movies have a distinct musical interlude. But the introduction of Shakira's melody in Zootopia fits with the world and the vibe of the movie--it's a song that seems to encompass the wonder and excitement of entering a big city. Angry Birds, on the other hand, has the pigs perform an impromptu cowboy show when they land on the island. It features a catchy song performed by musician Blake Shelton, but the entire performance is jarring in that it feels so completely separate from the aesthetic of the pigs and the tone of the movie.
Like the game it's based on, the Angry Birds film feels like a distraction. A good animated movie straddles the line between entertaining adults with sly asides, engaging children with energy, and tieing it all together with a compelling story. Angry Birds fails on every count, instead crafting a tale that's nonsensical even by its own internal logic and just plain boring from beginning to end.