Mark Reviews Movies

Angry Birds


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly

Cast: The voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudoplh, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Sean Penn, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale, Hannibal Buress

MPAA Rating:  (for rude humor and action)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 5/20/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 19, 2016

There's not much in terms of narrative to the video game upon which Angry Birds is based. That's a given. You probably know this, since the game is one of the most popular ones ever made. You control a slingshot armed with a series of cartoon birds, and the goal is to destroy a set number of green pigs in each level, either by direct hits or by knocking down structures in order to crush the swine. Like most games developed for mobile devices, it's a fun little diversion to waste some time when there's probably something more productive you could be doing.

The movie adaptation is also meant to be a diversion. It's not fun, though, and there are probably a lot of more productive things you could doing with your time instead of watching it—like playing the game, for example.

There is a story here, taken, one supposes, from the little bits of art that are displayed within the game before a stage begins and after it's completed. The cartoon birds and pigs also receive some characterization. Keep this in mind, though: The birds of the game are defined exclusively by their special abilities and the way it appears that they're on a suicide mission to defeat the pigs, so the detail that they can talk technically qualifies as "some characterization." The movie also gives them human-like bodies, with arm-and-hand-like wings and long legs. These changes seem to be about the extent of thought put into the characters.

What they end up being are vessels for cheap, obvious pop-culture references and bird-related puns. The word "flock" is used as a substitute for another word that starts with the letter F, ends with the last two consonants, and has a single vowel in place of the other two letters. It sounds a bit too much like the other word at one point, but perhaps that was just my thoughts about the movie bleeding into the dialogue.

The plot follows Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis), an ill-tempered cardinal who has built his house away from the other birds of the island where they all live. After ruining a chick's hatch-day party and nearly killing the family's not-yet-hatched second child on account of his fits of rage (It's an uncomfortable introduction to the story's hero, to say the least), Red is given a court order to attend anger management classes. Soon, the pigs, led by Leonard (voice of Bill Hader), arrive at the island on a massive ship. Red is the only bird who is suspicious of the porcine visitors, who bring gifts, such as—for no reason except that it has to be used later—a giant slingshot.

The story, the characters, and the jokes that they serve are not terrible by any standard of comparison. There are definitely worse examples of movies aimed at children that believe bright colors, broad characters, and an occasional bit of toilet humor are enough to keep the kiddies occupied for about 90 minutes, while also believing that throwing in a few "clever" jokes that allude to some celebrity or piece of media will appease the adults. It has become a formula, really, and the screenplay by Jon Vitti doesn't stray from it.

Red's companions are the speedy canary Chuck (voice of Josh Gad), the burly and quiet cardinal Terrence (voice of Sean Penn), and Bomb (voice of Danny McBride), who looks and explodes like his namesake whenever he's startled. There are also whisperings of Mighty Eagle (voice of Peter Dinklage), the island's defender, who disappeared many years ago. He becomes a lesson in the dangers of meeting one's hero and of swimming in water that could look like a toilet from another vantage point.

The jokes are recycled throughout the movie or drawn on for far too long, as the voice actors seemingly improvise lengthy riffs on a given topic. The plot unfolds as it must so that the content of the video game can come into play. That extended sequence, an aerial assault on the pigs' home, offers some weird moments, especially in terms of what the birds can do: A toucan becomes a boomerang, and Red's anger management instructor (voice of Maya Rudolph) is a chicken that shoots fireballs out of the second most obvious orifice. Otherwise, it's just a more realistic showcase of the game's destructive tendencies, with buildings being smashed and toppling over.

Where the movie does sink below the tired routine is in its regressive message. The moral of Angry Birds is that it's fine—even necessary and virtuous—to be angry, to rage, and to destroy. Have fun explaining that one to the kids.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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