Being a parent of a five-year-old boy, the question was not if my son would see The Angry Birds Movie, but rather when. Though his video game playing time is limited to about an hour a week, the one brand of games he plays the most is Angry Birds. When not playing the games he loves watching Angry Birds Toons, a seven episode cartoon series comprised of a collection of vignettes, on Netflix. Though the cartoons lack dialogue, they managed to capture the pigs steal eggs and the birds stop them nature of the game, in concise ten minute chunks, far better than anything The Angry Birds Movie can muster in its ninety-five minute running time.
The feature film version focuses on Red (Jason Sudeikis), an outcast amongst the locales of Bird Island, a land inexplicably full of flightless birds, as he is sentenced to anger management classes after his latest outburst of rage ruffles one too many feathers. Quick-tempered due to his issues of childhood torment and loneliness, the last thing Red thinks he needs is to be in sessions alongside oddball misfits like Chuck (Josh Gad, who is the real scene-stealer of the film), Bomber (Danny McBride), Terence (Sean Penn) and their off-kilter teacher Matilda (Maya Rudolph). While Red is reluctantly stuck practicing new age self-help techniques, the inhabitants of Bird Island find themselves taken by the charms of a mysterious stranger name Leonard (Bill Hader).
Claiming to be representatives of the king of pigs, Leonard and his dim-witted first mate come bearing lavish forms of entertainment and gifts from the outside world. Perturbed by the increasing number of pigs populating the island, and believing there is deceit behind Leonard’s huckster smile, Red enlists the help of Chuck and Bomber to seek out the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), a mythical hero who they hope will help them uncover the pigs’ sinister plot before it is too late.
It is not a coincidence that the marketing has repeatedly made a point to compare The Angry Birds Movie to The Lego Movie. Both films share the same irrelevant pop culture humour, and exist for no other reason than to further sell the brand. Of course neither film is breaking new ground here; Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja have been doing the same thing for decades. The major difference is that the latter at least attempts, as feebly at it may be, to create characters that the audience somewhat cares about.
The Angry Birds Movie is so concerned with incorporating as many references to the existing merchandise, including a sly nod to Angry Birds Go! racing app and others, that it neglects to develop its characters into anything more than thinly veiled archetypes. There is the angry one, the fast one, the gassy one, etc. Furthermore, it is tough for the film to convey any genuine feelings when the bulk of the narrative haphazardly attempts to suppress the one emotion that the film gets its namesake from.
In the film’s supposedly most sobering moment, the birds walk amongst the rubble of their destroyed homeland while being awoken to the realization that their eggs have been stolen. Instead of selling the gravity of the situation, and showing a smidgen of the pain any parent would feel, the film leaves it up to Red, the loner who has shown little respect for family or children up to this point, to advise the inhabitants that they should be angry that their unborn babies have been taken. Red who must instruct them to do whatever it takes to get their children back.
It was in this moment, just prior to the narrative turning into a big screen instructional video for the game, that the film completely lost me. I understand that it is a film designed for young audiences, and as such should be light and fun. However, when a children’s film cannot even muster up enough energy to bring basic emotions to its characters, something that even the worst Disney films can do in a few simple frames, it begs the question why should audiences care about anything occurring in the first place.