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Non-Review Review: Angry Birds

The Angry Birds Movie is an enjoyable animation experience.

Adapted from the famous touch-screen game, a favourite of phone users everywhere, The Angry Birds Movie has a fairly thin premise that can successfully distilled into its two-word title. Set on an island populated by flightless birds, the film follows the adventures of the series’ distinctive red character as he struggles to contain his rage and anger in a culture built around peace and harmony. The plot, such as it is, is driven by first contact between the feathered inhabitants and the mysterious green-skinned visitors from “the world of the pigs.”

All fired up.

All fired up.

Video game adaptations can be tricky, particularly when it comes to adapting a video game that lacks a strong internal narrative. After all, very few players could claim to be emotionally invested in the skilful (and joyful) application of physics that made the original game so popular. Trying to construct a world around the stylistic affectations of a plotless video game can lead to all manner of convoluted nonsense; one need only look at Street Fighter or Super Mario Brothers to see the dangers of adapting a plotless video game.

The strength of The Angry Birds Movie is in how the films luxuriates in its plotlessness, embracing the arbitrary nature of its internal logic. The Angry Birds Movie is more concerned with being witty and energetic than in being cohesive or making sense. Given that it is a movie about cartoon birds propelling themselves like missiles towards a group of egg-snatching pigs that manages be both charming and funny, it seems like the prudent choice.

Bite-sized fun.

Bite-sized fun.

The Angry Birds Movie is well aware of its natures as an adaptation of a hugely popular phone game without any real blot to drive it. The video game works as something akin to a dynamic puzzle game, much like Lemmings. The joy is in figuring out how best to launch the bird so as to defeat the villainous pigs, not in the mechanics of the story or the development of the character. It is hard to imagine stretching out the game’s simple premise to fill the movie’s ninety-five minute runtime without considerable elaboration.

This elaboration brings its own risks, risks of over-complicating a simple premise or fundamentally misunderstanding the appeal of the property in question. After all, the simplicity of a game like Angry Birds is part of the appeal. Turning it into a much more straightforward narrative would strip a lot of what the audience likes about the game and risk transforming it into something… different. Why bother adapting Angry Birds if the plan would be to invent a story and a world from scratch?

We'll let a judge be the judge of that.

We’ll let a judge be the judge of that.

Instead, The Angry Birds Movie embraces the generic nature of the video game. The red-feathered protagonist is known only as “Red”, because any other descriptor would be superfluous. His gigantic companion who is prone to explode is known as “Bomb”, because that is really all that you need to know about the character. The cast of The Angry Birds Movie is drawn in the broadest possible manner. Red has difficulty managing his anger; Chuck is hyperactive and speedy; Bomb is dumb and well-intentioned. Even the supporting characters are very archetypal.

The plot is similarly straightforward. Rather than trying to over-explain or justify the trappings imported directly from the video game, The Angry Birds Movie embraces the absurdity of it all. The visiting pigs present their feathered hosts with the gift of a giant slingshot, with little justification beyond the fact that the climax of the film needs a slingshot for it to be an Angry Birds movie. Similarly, the pigs are fixated with trampolines because the film’s nature as an adaptation demands as much.

Pigging out...

Pigging out…

The Angry Birds Movie never stresses itself trying to elaborate upon its fairly scarce source material. The game is based around the premise of pigs stealing eggs from the eponymous irrate fowl, but the film takes its time to reach that point. Although pigs’ sinister intent is quite clear from their arrival on the island, the movie does not have them enact their plan until more than half-way through. In fact, the “angry birds rescue their eggs” section of the film only encompasses the final act. The Angry Birds Movies is not overburdened with plot.

As an aside, the final act of the film is particularly interesting. As our heroes set out to rescue their eggs, they lay siege to the city of the pigs. The resulting sequence is very much light-hearted slapstick, but it does mark a very rare occurence of wide scale urban destruction in an animated family film. This sort of citybound chaos is normally the fodder of films like The Avengers or Man of Steel. While The Angry Birds Movie still plays that destruction as cartoon violence in keeping with the spirit of the game, it is an interesting visual comparison.

Three amigos.

Fowl play.

Without too much plot to worry about, the movie is allowed the space to mine its premise for jokes. Rather than trying to manufacture a story or force its premise to make sense, The Angry Birds Movie runs with the absurdity of the situation and delves into the comic potential. Instead of expending energy building a world, The Angry Birds Movie tries to cram as many jokes into its runtime as possible. Not every joke lands, but The Angry Birds Movie plays something of a numbers game; present as many jokes as quickly as possible, and hope enough land.

It is a strategy that pays off dividends. Not every joke in The Angry Birds Movie is a winner or a keeper. In fact, there are a few points at the climax where the film descends to little more than reference humour lifting more memorable or effective sequences from The Shining or X-Men: Days of Future Past. However, there are enough jokes that do work to keep the movie ticking over. Many of these gags are comedy staples, with a heavy emphasis on physical comedy and wordplay, but it is not a bad approach when it comes to delivering a rapid-fire joke machine.

Drawing back...

Drawing back…

This is evident even in the background of the film. Many of the movie’s sharpest gags are buried in the scenery, the production team taking any opportunity to make a bird- or pig-based pun. One blink-and-you-miss-it gag features a poster hanging on a wall for “Kevin Bacon in Hamlet.” Another nice touch has the pigs using an old style radio helpfully labelled with “ham.” Striking a slightly darker note, there are number of sequences that feature the pigs eating and serving what looks like sausages, inviting the audience to wonder what they eat when they can’t get eggs.

It helps that the production team has drawn together a pretty impressive cast. Of particular note are Bill Hader as Leonard the Pig and Peter Dinklage as a flawed mentor figure, bringing a rich comic sensibility to stock supporting roles. Again, they two are ably assisted by a script that is willing to detour into absurdity in search of a good laughline. One of the best comedic detours of the entire film is a completely pointless sequence in which our heroes seek out a legendary hero; the design of the hero’s layer is particularly wry.

Walk hard.

Walk hard.

The Angry Birds Movie is not a brilliant or transformative work. It is too broadly drawn to have the same emotional impact that defines the very best of contemporary animated filmmaking. However, it is to the credit of the film that it embraces this limitation. The Angry Birds Movie is not a classic, but it doesn’t try to be. It is fun, light, and energetic. It should keep the kids entertained and the adults amused. As such, it lands precisely on target.

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5 Responses

  1. Sometimes, we tend to overanalyse and intellectualize movies that are aimed to kiddies.

  2. I denounce your claim that Street Fighter is plotless.

  3. Seriously? A game isn’t enough then? Well whatever. I don’t believe they can make smth better than Zootopia

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