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Friday, May 20, 2016

Movie Review: The Angry Birds Movie

Anger surprisingly doesn’t lead to suffering in game adaptation.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

Angry Birds has always functioned primarily as an agreeable way to pass the time on the toilet, but it’s difficult to imagine any of the millions of people who have downloaded the game over the years putting much thought into the rules that govern its world. Why are those birds so angry? Why do those pigs construct such breathtakingly shoddy structures around themselves? That one bird who is shaped and functions like a bomb, what’s his story? Players trying to carefully aim the yellow bird directly at the TNT box located at a crucial juncture almost certainly never stopped to ask themselves these hard questions, and yet here is The Angry Birds Movie to answer them all the same.

The red bird with the bushy eyebrows on the game’s logo? His name, naturally, is Red, and he is voiced with the sardonic tones of Jason Sudeikis. Red lives on Bird Island, a happy little community of inexplicably flightless birds, and his short-temperedness has made him a pariah among his brethren, to the point where he is effectively banished, his house located way off on the edge of the coastline. After a dustup over a botched cake delivery, Red is forced into a court-ordered anger management course, where he meets other square pegs like the hyperactive Chuck (Josh Gad), the nervously combustible Bomb (Danny McBride) and the hulking, grunting mute Terrance (Sean Penn, honestly). Red’s dissatisfaction with his lot in life only worsens when a boat arrives containing the jovial green pig Leonard (Bill Hader) and his Minion-esque underlings, hailing from Piggy Island. The pigs enthrall the birds with their technological advancements, like slingshots and dynamite, but their ultimate goal is to hijack the birds’ entire egg supply right out from under them. Red is the only bird suspicious of the pigs, and after the eggs are poached, he becomes birdkind’s only hope for recovering them.

It must be said that The Angry Birds Movie finds a surprisingly workable method of constructing a narrative out of a game that solely revolves around knocking stuff down. The bird community is more or less well-realized and the conflict with the pigs is also handled capably. Even when the movie, in its climax, becomes the largest-scale version of the game ever undertaken, the motivations and strategies all make a certain amount of sense. In some game adaptations, like 1993’s abysmal Super Mario Bros, the attempts at explicating and incorporating elements of the game into an actual storyline have felt awkward and inorganic in a way that they really don’t here. Honestly, this is probably the best Angry Birds movie anyone could have hoped for, in the off-chance that anyone ever had hopes like that.

It also helps that the voice work here is top-notch. The movie has assembled a murderer’s row of contemporary comedy icons amenable to an easy paycheck, including Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Keegan Michael-Key and Billy Eichner. The best thing about the film is Sudeikis, whose acerbic commentary on the absurdity surrounding him is consistently winning. Likewise, Gad does more appealing work here than he did in Frozen, or in basically anything else he’s ever done in live-action. McBride doesn’t have as strong of a character, stuck as he is playing a sentient bomb, but the character’s utter lack of confidence is a welcome switch from the actor’s default mode of bulldozing arrogance. That sort of arrogance is instead assigned to Peter Dinklage, who also does solid work as the Mighty Eagle, a mythic god among the birds who turns out to embody the maxim “never meet your heroes.”

However, it should be made plain that The Angry Birds Movie is certainly not a revelation in the way that the similarly corporate-generated The Lego Movie emerged as. The film is entertaining enough, but it is only truly laudable in the face of how dire the expectations for an Angry Birds movie reflexively are. There are also the usual low-aiming bodily-function gags to pander to kids’ baser senses. Yet the film does clear the (admittedly low) bar of making Angry Birds work as a story with characters. That might not be the grandest victory a film has ever achieved, but it’s not nothing. It at least provides a glimmer of hope for the inevitable Candy Crush motion picture.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


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