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Non-Review Review: The Angry Birds Movie 2

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is a mess, a film that seems uncertain of its own target audience.

Like the original Angry Birds Movie, the sequel feels like something a throwback, an animated film that evolutionary leap that Pixar brought to computer-generated animation during their peak in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Other animated studios have come to embrace the sort of sophisticated storytelling that elevated those iconic and beloved Pixar films, most notably Dreamworks in projects like Kung-Fu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon.

Cool customers.

In contrast, both The Angry Birds Movie and The Angry Birds Movie 2 feel displaced in time, or perhaps even a glimpse sideways into a world where Wall-E and Up never happened, so Shrek and its sequels still provide a template for storytelling in computer-generated animation. The Angry Birds Movie arguably made a better deal of this than one could expect, with an approach that harked back to the cartoonish sociopathy that defined so much of twentieth-century American animation, a particularly crass and crude spin on the Tex Avery template.

There are moments in The Angry Birds Movie 2 were that retrograde influence clearly shines through. In fact, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is at its strongest when it feels more like a collection of Looney Tunes sketches than an actually narrative. Unfortunately, all of this gets muddle; the eggs that were such an important plot point in The Angry Birds Movie get scrambled, as the film jumps from extremes; broad pop culture parodies, nineties nostalgia, absurd cartoonish violence, pseudo-feminism, a jilted lover plot, commentary on modern dating.

The se-squeal.

Maybe some of these elements could work in isolation, if the production team found an interesting angle into. Maybe some of these elements could work in unison, if they were combined in small doses and with a clear over-arching design in mind. However, The Angry Birds Movie 2 never seems sure of what it wants to be or who it wants to be for, creating a strange cocktail that doesn’t serve any of its audience particularly well.

The result is something of a curate’s egg.

Birds of a feather.

The Angry Birds Movie 2 works best at either an extreme distance or in extreme close-up. From far enough away, the basic ingredients of the movie make a certain amount of sense. Adapting the beloved mobile game, The Angry Birds Movie focused on conflict between the birds and the pigs. It was a simple set-up that provided a frame for jokes, but which could feel a little uncomfortable in this era of xenophobia and anxiety about foreigners. So The Angry Birds Movie 2 makes the smart choice – narratively and thematically – of forcing the birds and the pigs to team up.

The Angry Birds Movie 2 also occasionally works within the space of individual scenes and sequences. As with The Angry Birds Movie, there’s a surprisingly nasty streak to The Angry Birds Movie 2. It feels decidedly foreign in the modern era of gentler children’s animation, but is part of a rich heritage going back to things like Tom and Jerry. The Angry Birds Movie 2 is utterly unapologetic about embracing this type of brutal slapstick. After ambushing a sleeping snake in the bushes, and emerging wearing leather boots, an adorable baby bird muses, “Wow. That got dark.”

Vicious recycle.

It is perhaps too much to suggest that these sorts of sequences “work” in any meaningful sense. After all, there is probably a reason why modern animation has moved away from that level of surreal hyperviolence in cartoons aimed at kids. However, it does give The Angry Birds Movie 2 a very distinct voice and aesthetic. It is very hard to imagine, for example, any other animated film that would include a sequence of physical comedy that owes such a sizable debt to the bathroom brawl in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

The problem with The Angry Birds Movie 2 lies in everything that connects that fairly sound big idea to these reasonably competent smaller moments. It isn’t just story, although that is a large part of it. It is tone and theme. It is a sense that the film isn’t entirely sure how to get from its fairly solid central idea to a fully developed animated film, and so the film doesn’t so much move towards a clear goal as it judders and flails like the macabre life-size model of an eagle that the cast construct at one point in the story as part of an overly elaborate infiltration plan.

Alarming if true.

On a very basic level, The Angry Birds Movie 2 doesn’t understand how to structure its story. It bounces through a handful of awkward sequences before landing on what seems to be a plot. The movie opens with a renewed “prank war” between the birds and the pigs that is clearly intended to establish an animosity that is otherwise readily apparent, and serves as a springboard for a series of unfunny setpieces that are neither conceptually nor visually interest enough to justify the time spent.

The film then segues into a weird commentary on modern dating, as Chuck and Bomb take Red to a speed dating session which includes an extended joke about the futility of trying to gauge compatibility with another person through a series on inane questions. Not only is this sequence completely pointless and overlong, it also seems ill-judged. The Angry Birds Movie 2 is quite consciously and quite candidly aimed at a pre-teenage audience. As such, jokes about the modern dating scene are an awkward fit.

Catapulted to success.

Of course, on a purely practical basis, the speed dating sequence exists primarily to introduce Red to the character of Silver. As with the decision to ally the birds and the pigs, the inclusion of Silver in The Angry Birds Movie 2 seems intended to correct a potential issue with The Angry Birds Movie; the fact that there were no major female characters. Silver is intended to add a pseudo-feminist edge to the story. Silver is a scientist and researcher, and the film even includes a sequence where her presence among the heroes inspires young female birds to take an interest in science.

There are just a few major problems with this. Most obviously, the film seems to ask that Silver be treated as more than just “the girl one” on the team and repeatedly stresses that she has as much (if not more) expertise as Red. However, the film still introduces her at a speed-dating event opposite Red, suggesting that she should be considered first-and-foremost as a potential “mate” for the male protagonist. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, the film also chooses to bookend her role in the narrative in similar terms.

Zeta beams.

The problem is compounded by the introduction of the villain “Zeta”, framed as the jilted lover of the cowardly “Mighty Eagle.” Of course, Zeta claims that her villainy is not rooted in a desire for revenge, but the film itself belies this premise. Most obviously, Zeta watches with glee as she destroys her ex-lover’s majestic mountaintop home and rues his survival. Her villain is even explicitly framed in terms of her status as a single woman. “I’m taking care of myself,” she offers by way of explanation for her attacks on the birds and the pigs. (No points for guessing how her arc ends.)

The weird decision to anchor the central plot of The Angry Birds Movie 2 in the relationship between Mighty Eagle and Zeta leads to a couple of other obvious glaring issues. Owing more to Shrek than to any animation since, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is steeped in pop culture. It is full of sequences of the characters set against music or dancing, often falling back on the tired and familiar joke of subverting these beats by having a character fall flat on their face or playing a melancholy version of the song in question.

Seeing red.

To be fair, some of these references are relatively recent and so likely to resonate with the intended audience of the film. However, some of the gags hinge on pop culture that heavily predates that audience in question. An extended flashback reveals that Mighty Eagle and Zeta courted in “the nineties.” It is best not to worry too much about why these birds and pigs have a concept of the nineties. However, the scene plays over Paula Cole’s I Don’t Want to Wait. Later, the heroic characters find themselves in a dance-off (don’t ask) to Axel F.

These choices are very strange. Like the earlier speed-dating sequence, they reference pop culture that won’t be familiar to the children excited to watch an Angry Birds movie. However, they aren’t anything more than glaring superficial nods to the time period in question, and so are unlikely to resonate with older audiences – or accompanying parents – in the way that the straight-up nostalgia hit of something like The Lion King or Aladdin might.

Happy as a pig, in spite of it all.

Then again, this assumes any of the structuring or internal logic of The Angry Birds Movie 2 makes sense. The film is a mess even on the level of basic storytelling. The film features an extended prologue focused on Red, Chuck and Bomb. The film assumes familiarity with these characters. However, the film then makes a point to reintroduce the characters – half-an-hour into the runtime and long after any new audience member already has a sense of who these characters are, what they can do, and how they relate to one another.

The best bits in The Angry Birds Movie 2 have nothing to do with story or theme, instead focusing on a set of disjointed and disconnected adventures of a handful of adorable baby birds who accidentally lose their parents’ eggs while trying to recreate the plot of The Angry Birds Movie. What follows is a collection of vignettes in which these adorable baby birds mount a rescue mission while reflecting on the plot logic that drives such a question. It is cute, it is broad, it is simple. It is uncluttered. It is not poetry, but it works well enough in an otherwise ill-considered film.

Unfortunately, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is not content to be a series of old-fashioned animate set pieces strung together by a simplistic video game plot. It seems that almost every decision the film makes that takes it away from that set-up is the wrong one.

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