The Angry Birds Movie is disappointing for a number of reasons, but the top one might be that if it had committed just 10 percent more to its core premise, it could have accidentally been the Trumpiest kids' movie ever made.
At the center of the film is the idea that anger is the emotion most worth feeling, because life is unjust, and people are coming from a far-off land to steal your stuff. If you think you're angry, Angry Birds says, well, you're not angry enough. Somewhere within it is a weirdo parable about how immigrants will rob you and wreck your life, and then head back to their native land, and the movie seems blissfully unaware of this reading.
Unfortunately, Angry Birds just can't make anything stick. By the time the film has become a big-screen version of the famous mobile game on which it's very loosely based, it no longer has a reason to exist beyond brand extension. Angry Birds could be gonzo; instead, it's just kinda ... there.
Angry Birds is like Inside Out, but for anger and not nearly as good
Everything about Angry Birds feels like an off-brand Pixar movie. Its plot — in which an otherwise likable guy with a dark chapter in his personal history that he doesn't want to talk about gets paired up with some obnoxious companions he comes to embrace as friends — is straight out of the Pixar playbook, and Angry Birds is littered with the sorts of background gags and ensemble comic scenes that Pixar excels at.
But the movie's most telling lift is perhaps its well-intentioned message about how valuable it is to feel angry — similar to how Pixar's 2015 release Inside Out ended up being about how you need to feel sad to be able to feel happy again. In the end, though, Angry Birds falls just short of this aim; it can never quite make up its mind on how it feels about anger, vacillating wildly between finding it valuable and presenting it as something to be avoided, unpredictable and frightening.
Our hero, Red (Jason Sudeikis, as the little red bird with the angry, angry eyebrows who's the face of the video game), has every reason to be mad at the villainous pigs whose ship accidentally wrecked his house when they arrived on Bird Island. But Red's fellow birds think he's being too serious about his fears of their new guests, and they tease him because of his paranoia.
When the pigs steal the birds' eggs after abusing the birds' hospitality, though, everybody turns to Red to try to figure out what to do next, and the free-floating anger he's felt his whole life finally comes in handy.
This character story is the clumsiest thing about Angry Birds (which really could have been a good movie; more on that in a bit). The film attempts to give Red a troubled backstory — kids made fun of him for his angry eyebrows and he doesn't have parents (laying it on a little thick) — but it never really tries to make it anything other than a hastily applied excuse for Red's antisocial feelings.
And, of course, Red's free-floating rage is ultimately validated, though it doesn't really prove all that important to the final mission to rescue the birds' eggs. Red doesn't turn into the incredible bird Hulk when he gets mad; he mostly just becomes a slightly better battle strategist, but in a way that amounts to, "Throw a bird at that building and hope it topples over." (Fortunately for him, the pigs seem to only construct their houses on stilts.)
Far weirder is the way the film shares Red's hostility toward his new friends Chuck (Josh Gad as the yellow, speedy bird) and Bomb (Danny McBride as, well, look at the name), whom he met in anger management class, even though neither seems particularly mad about anything at all. We know how these movies work, and we know that Red will come around to seeing Chuck and Bomb as his best friends. But the movie doesn't bother earning this development. Red is simply mad at them until he's not, and then Angry Birds is over.
It's possible the film could have said something interesting about anger, and about how feeling angry can help us process our other emotions, like fear or paranoia or sorrow.
But Angry Birds doesn't want to really make that argument, perhaps because it's aware that just having Red's pig speciesism be completely validated would send some questionable messages. (Instead, the film halfheartedly tries to argue that Red is mad at the pigs simply because they broke his house.) So the movie ends up in a weird negative space that it ultimately fails to escape.
It's too bad, because Angry Birds could make a great heist movie
The basic idea behind Angry Birds is that something precious has been taken from the birds and is being held behind closed doors. Fortunately, each bird has a special skill, whether that's being super fast or being able to explode or just being a gigantic, hulking brute. (The gigantic red bird Terence, the best character in the game, is also the best character in the film, communicating only in grunts and chuckles provided by Sean Penn, of all people.)
And you know what that is? It's the basic setup for a heist film like Ocean's Eleven: The characters hatch a crazy plan. They execute it. They improvise as they deal with obstacles they didn't realize would arise. They snag the precious item in the end, and the villains rue the day they ever pissed off the heroes. It's a time-honored formula!
It's also a formula Angry Birds seems completely unaware of. All the birds from the game head over to Piggy Island, ready to topple some pig buildings (except for those little blue birds who can split from one bird into three, which is really ridiculous, because those are the best birds), but each only gets a brief gag or moment to show off.
The movie is so wrapped up in Red's confused character arc that by the time the first act is over, it's already time for the movie to end, and none of the other characters get nearly as well-developed. That's particularly true of the film's female characters, Matilda the bomb-throwing chicken (and head of the anger management class), and Stella, the bubble-blowing pink bird, both of whom end up contributing very little to the final assault on the pigs.
I don't want to claim that Angry Birds could have been Shakespeare, but of all popular mobile games to adapt, it's the one that offers the most ready-made plot outline for a film to exploit. Or, failing that, it could have been a truly weird experiment in seeing how close a kids' film could get to justifying xenophobia and/or racism. Instead, it's neither/nor, and one of the flatter movies of the year.
C'mon, Angry Birds. You could have been so weird. I expected more.
The Angry Birds Movie is playing throughout the country.