Armed with a bigger budget and better voice talent, The Angry Birds Movie should be a home run over last month’s merely serviceable Ratchet & Clank. Sadly, the truth is this yet another mildly entertaining but hollow experience… and one that’s also missed its zeitgeist by a few years.
As Red, Jason Sudeikis can be quite funny as a bird that’s been forced to take anger-management classes since going postal as a birthday cake delivery guy, err, fowl. In the opening sequence, Red tries his darndest to get a b-day cake to a kid’s party but trees, vines, and other obstacles slow him down. So he’s quite annoyed when the tiny bird’s dad (Broad City’s Hannibal Buress) lets him have it.
The world of Bird Island is mostly peaceful, so its citizens don’t take kindly to Red’s continuous outbursts, even if he was defending himself. These flocks of too-polite feathers also disapprove of the speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) as well as the explosive nature of Bombs (Danny McBride). This is how our core members eventually meet—in a new age-y meditation class led by guru Matilda (Maya Rudolph).
But then a ship carrying way-too-many friendly green pigs arrive promising mindless entertainment to the naïve bird community, and nearly all of the inhabitants are bird-brained enough to trust them. But what are these pigs really planning? Can Red and his court-ordered pals find out the truth? Will this lead to our heroes catapulting into structures and causing much mayhem?
The bulk of Angry Birds is fairly standard computer-animated fare. In fact, beside the physical resemblance one would be hard-pressed to find much about this adaptation of the hugely popular mobile phenomenon that is like the game. Despite an explosive last act, if you had never played the game, you could easily just think this is another generic romp like the Rio movies boasting a similar tropical setting.
Having a good roster of comedic voice actors who also include Bill Hader as the scheming head pig Leonard, as well as the somewhat funny turn by Peter Dinklage as the one they call Mighty Eagle, helps to keep the one-liners in the air to a point. In actuality, though, it is Sean Penn who plays the nearly wordless beast-sized Terence that is the most smile-inducing. He’s not awesome like, say, Vin Diesel’s Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s clever casting regardless.
Oddly enough, the script by Jon Vitti (The Simpsons Movie) has the right idea for adapting a property which, let’s face it, is devoid of character and story. (Take note, future Tetris filmmakers!) Having Red’s anger issues play out as a cranky dude who doesn’t suffer fools lightly is a smart way to build a character from the game's name and the annoyed look on any angry birds’ face.
The problem is that Red is really the only clever thing. Josh Gad’s Chuck is just another version of naïve “unpredictable” quirkfest that he’s been playing since Olaf in Frozen. Danny McBride, known for foul-mouthed inspired rants is quite tame. It's understandable as this is a kids film after all, but then why bother casting him? Everywhere Red goes, he, like the audience, is astounded by how “okay” most folks on Bird Island are with mediocrity. Think about what directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did with the “everything is awesome” mantra in the Lego Movie. This could have had a similar trek, but it just doesn’t. Instead, the bulk of the gags are of the "put everything in slo-mo" variety.
Prior to becoming co-directors themselves, Clay Katis and Fergal Reilly have been in the animated businnes for years. Katis was an animator on Wreck-It Ralph, a film that was way more savvy about video game culture, albeit the 8-bit era. Visually, Angry Birds represents solid 3D versions of the birds and pigs from the game, and once they start being lunged in the air to knock down towers, you can tell you’re watching a movie based on Angry Birds. (Sadly, there is no Star Wars Angry Birds easter eggs.) What fun there is to had here, like Sudiekis’s charm and some of the set pieces, are short lived.
The other director, Reilly, was an art director on The Smurfs and Hotel Transylvania. Between the two of them are many well-made, big-budget animated movies, but what’s missing is a point of view or, put bluntly, a reason for existing.
Of course, the biggest reason for any venture like this of course is to be a hit, but this movie comes about two years behind the Angry Birds craze. What's left is fun enough and brightly colored, but like so many (all?) video game adaptations, it's not good enough to make you stop playing and start watching.