The Angry Birds franchise began in 2009 as a video game, the object of which was to launch roly-poly little birds from a slingshot at little green pigs. The pigs have stolen their eggs, you see. The game led to more than a dozen spin-off games, and merchandising ranging from toys to clothes to TV cartoons, and now, inevitably, to this animated feature.
Our hero, voiced by Jason Sudeikis, is Red, the scowling, cardinal-like bird you’ve been seeing on kids’ hats and t-shirts the last few years, if you’ve been paying attention. He lives on an island inhabited by oddly flightless avians—it’s the entire Universe, as far as they know. Most of these birds aren’t inordinately angry, so an outburst, early on, lands Red in court, and he’s sent to an anger management class, where he meets other…well, you know.
Then huge ships arrive filled with green pigs. The guileless birds are taken in by their friendly overtures, except for Red, who’s suspicious of them. He turns out to be right, of course. The pigs steal the island’s eggs, and it’s up to Red and his anger management classmates to rouse the ire of the populace, and lead them to the land of the pigs to try to rescue them from the Pig King’s kettle.
The high-ticket voice cast, which includes the likes of Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage and even Sean Penn—amusingly cast as the Angriest of the Birds—more or less ensures that there will be a few laughs. There’s some ingenious visual shtick, too. But overall The Angry Birds Movie is tiring—too many of the gags and situations seem artificially extended, as if the filmmakers knew they didn’t have much story to work with, and were trying to pad for time.
More than this, there’s the whole matter of the theme of anger. Anger is funny. Most comedy is based on some degree of anger. Anger also resonates with children, who feel it intensely but in most cases impotently.
But there’s anger and then there’s anger. There’s legitimate, mature outrage at, say, rudeness or injustice, and then there’s the anger that can arise from annoyance at other people’s cheerfulness, or from changes in our world with which we’re uncomfortable, or simply from daily inconveniences.
We’re all subject to this second sort, of course, and it’s always a good source of comedy. But it shouldn’t be mistaken for wisdom, and I fear that’s how The Angry Birds Movie wants us to see it. I certainly don’t think the film is intentionally reactionary, but I’m also unconvinced that a celebration of anger—resolving itself in war on foreigners—is what our society is most in need of just now. We have plenty of angry birdbrains already.
The Angry Birds Movie is rated PG and plays at Harkins Tempe Marketplace 16, Arizona Mills 25, Chandler Fashion 20 and other multiplexes Valleywide.