Adults will have a hard time looking at Sony Animation’s The Angry Birds Movie—based on the addictive, phenomenally popular video game—and not seeing it for what it is: the answer to a question no one asked. Well, movie studio executives obviously asked it: how do you make a movie out of Angry Birds?
In some ways, the answer provided by screenwriter Jon Vitti (The Simpsons) and first-time feature directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly is kind of impressive as that riddle-solving exercise, with solutions that seem obvious in hindsight. Give that main red bird anger “issues,” send him to “anger management,” then send in the green pigs to catalyze a crisis that can only be solved by…angry birds. Done, done, and done: roll credits. Where the filmmakers win is by convincing people like me—by way of voice talent, wit, a nimble score (by Heitor Pereira), and vertiginous 3D action—that you can hate, or be indifferent to, Angry Birds the game and like, or even love, The Angry Birds Movie.
On Bird Island—that “happy, happy community under the protection of Mighty Eagle” (Peter Dinklage’s “Oz”-like mythic figure)—flightless birds live mostly in harmony. Somehow, the terrain of Bird Island feels surprisingly fresh and (franchise-)fertile, even though adults will have seen all of these elements a million times before in different guises. The dynamic opening sequence finds hatchday party clown Red trying to save the cake he’s delivering from destruction: old farts like me will think fondly of Wile E. Coyote, while kids will recognize the DNA of Ice Age’s Scrat. When Red opens his mouth to reveal the overgrown-fratboy stylings of Sudeikis, we’re launched into a mini-comedy-drama that implies some psychological wisdom: his anger always makes things worse, destructively deepening his trouble on a personal level.
Ever-ticked-off Red (Jason Sudeikis) winds up in an anger-management class taught by Maya Rudolph’s Matilda and populated by hulking Terence (Sean Penn, if you can believe it), speedy Chuck (Josh Gad of Frozen), and volatile Bomb (Danny McBride, doing what sounds like his Seth Rogen impression). But even though “Anger is not always the answer,” sometimes it has to be, or there’s no movie, and here’s where The Angry Birds Movie will divide audiences. When invasive green pig Leonard (Bill Hader) sails up and destroys Red’s house, the film starts to legitimize Red’s anger, and never stops.
It’s doubtful most parents will do the work to brush the stars from their kids’ eyes and explain the psychological nuances of the healthy channeling of anger, so this is somewhat risky business from a moral standpoint. But that’s what it takes to fashion high-stakes adventure, as the hungry pigs steal the birds’ eggs, necessitating a frantic, extended-climax rescue that will thrill kids while making them think twice about their next breakfast. Surely no one needed to know, or care, that Red is angry because he was a friendless orphan, and it’s especially unfortunate that females are so marginalized here, but as long as people are going to waste time on Angry Birds, they may just as well do it this way.