Now playing at a multiplex near you:
(Dir. Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly, 2016)
Now, I’ve never played Angry Birds, the biggest selling mobile app ever, so I can't offer any comparisons, but I can say that Sony Pictures Imageworks’ new 3D animated comedy based on the game actually isn’t bad – for a movie based on an app that is.
That’s probably because I was expecting it to be crap. It looked like yet another dumb, brightly colored kids cartoon crammed with celebrity voices primed to sell a lot of toys and kick off another useless franchise.
Well, yeah, that’s what it is, but the voice cast’s energy is appealing and a surprising number of the jokes hit their mark. This is largely due to Jason Sudeikis as the protagonist Red, a puffy cardinal with Eugene Levy-esque eyebrows. Sudeikis’ sharp ultra sarcastic delivery keeps the laughs, or at least the mild chuckles, coming.
Set on an island paradise populated entirely by happy, flightless birds, Red is an orphaned outcast whose temper lands him in an anger management class where he begrudgingly bonds with a fast yellow bird named Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad), and a beefy black bird named Bomb (Danny McBride), who literally explodes if he gets too upset. Also in the class is a large red fowl named Terence, who’s voiced by the biggest name here, Sean Penn, but don’t get too excited about the Oscar winner’s presence here as his dialogue is all low grunts and growls.
Suddenly a ship with a few green pigs shows up in the bay, with their bearded leader named Leonard (Sudeikis' SNL buddy Bill Hader) announcing to the bird community that they come in peace from Piggy Island (I guess every animal has their own island in this world). Red doesn’t trust the pigs, mainly because the anchor of their ship crushed his beachfront house, but he’s overruled and the pigs and birds have a big celebration featuring a cowboy show that’s a transparent excuse to showcase a Blake Shelton pop country single recorded exclusively for the soundtrack. Cha-ching!
Unable to convince the others that the pigs are dangerous, Red, Chuck, and Bomb decide to seek out Mighty Eagle, said to be the protector of the island, who lives on the treacherous peak of Bird Mountain. Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage voices Mighty Eagle and gets to sing his own theme song, but the joke that the character is a washed-up has been of a hero is a predictably lame cliché – add that to the film’s clunkers.
When the pigs steal the birds’ eggs and head back home, the feathered islanders realize that Red was right and that the only way for them to get even is to get mad. So they build a boat and sail to Piggy Island to wage war and get back their babies. This involves a ginormous slingshot that flings the birds one by one at the pigs’ city which I am guessing is like the game.
The directorial debut of a couple of longtime animators, Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is far from great, and I cringed at many gags (especially some of the surprising instances of gross-out humor), but Jon Vitti’s screenplay has a fair amount of fine comic invention so I believe I laughed more than I winced. Vitti is a veteran of some high quality comic efforts, having written for The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, and SNL, but he’s also one of the scribes behind the ALVIN AND THE CHIPMONK fiascos so that icky sensibility must be factored in as well.
So there you have it, an animated 3D feature based on a mobile phone game that makes for a throwaway matinee.