Nobody’s going to say that The Angry Birds Movie had to be George Orwell’s Animal Farm for the millennial set, despite the presence of evil pigs. But the entire appeal of the app franchise is that it wastes your time while simultaneously tickling those left-brain zones in an almost zen-like state of math and physics play. To play a round of Angry Birds is to be passive and aggressive. The only element the filmmakers, who apparently thought the world needed a movie about avian suicide bombers, had to get right was that same sense of throwaway frivolity. Maybe in the wake of Pixar, and the wave of increasingly convincing imitations, it’s harder to get animated movies through the studio gauntlet without them accruing a lot of conceptual baggage. Or, conversely, maybe it’s the challenge of adapting something that has no inherent story that led to the narrative oversharing. Either way, The Angry Birds Movie is a lot of things, but none of them true to the app’s appeal.
At least the filmmakers had a solidly established set of character designs to work from, though the film focuses most on Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), whose flaring temper lands him in anger management. There he reluctantly forms a flock with some of the other birds he meets, including Chuck (the yellow one) and Bomb (probably the most whimsically designed of the lot with that blazing fuze cowlick), which comes in pretty handy when a ship of pigs ends up anchoring at the remote island these misshapen birds call home. The pigs have arrived to steal the birds’ eggs. It’s a basic plot that adheres to the superficial story the game originated, but with groaning predictability the movie ends up cluttered with fast-paced, focus group-tested ’tude, caricatures, gags, and pop needle-drops. (Really, a reference to The Shining? Parents are going to be bored with or without it.)
The Angry Birds Movie is about as generous as a free app where all the good stuff requires in-game purchases. But then there’s the subtext. While never overstated in the movie itself, it’s hard not to pick up on how Red’s righteous wrath starts out as a liability in his social circumstances. The film’s entire trajectory bends toward re-contextualizing anger from being a major character flaw into the quality necessary in a leadership role. Especially in times of crisis, especially when foreigners (who may as well be different life forms in the eyes of some) are threatening to skip borders and steal everything they can get their hands on. Yes, it’s highly likely that the film was well into development, if not production, long before anyone took Donald Trump seriously as a presidential candidate, but even accidental serendipity can reveal basic and ugly truths about our cultural id.