By Michael Kaye
Angry Birds (Review)
The one quote I will always carry with me as a film fan is Roger Ebert's declaration that "It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it." That's why I haven't completely given up on Hollywood. That's why I feel like "superhero fatigue" is bogus, and that's ESPECIALLY why, in this post-The Lego Movie landscape, I will never judge a movie solely based on its premise. Basically, it's the reason I'm The Film Avenger. 2016 is supposed to be the year where Hollywood finally lifts that dreaded video game movie curse, but so far things have not gone well. Like, did anyone else besides me see Ratchet & Clank opening weekend? Yeah, I didn't think so. Warcraft is still three weeks away, but until then, here's another animated attempt to lift the curse with The Angry Birds Movie.
The story takes place on an island populated entirely by happy, flightless birds or almost entirely. In this paradise, Red, a bird with a temper problem, speedy Chuck, and the volatile Bomb have always been outsiders. But when the island is visited by mysterious green piggies, it’s up to these unlikely outcasts to figure out what the pigs are up to.
I'm grading this movie on a curve, because technically speaking, this is the best video game movie of all time. But does that make it a good movie on its own merits? Yes, but for some critics to call it "the next Lego Movie" is pretty damn inaccurate. I'm going to lay out some differences when I discuss my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, there is a lot of genuine talent attached to this movie. The voice cast is comprised of a variety of some of the best comedic actors working today, such as Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key, and the list goes on. Sudeikis probably impressed me the most, as he added some very subtle layers to a character that could have easily been one-note. Josh Gad's speedy comedic timing was excellent, it was like he was cut from the same cloth as the Looney Tunes and Animaniacs. But the scene stealer has to be either Peter Dinklage as the Mighty Eagle, or Sean Penn (yes, THE Sean Penn) as Terence, who's one of the best non-verbal characters I've seen in a while.
Believe it or not, this movie is actually the directorial debut for Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. Who are these guys? Well, you might recognize their work on films such as Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen, The Iron Giant, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania. It's hard to believe that a former animator and storyboard artist just directed the reigning champion of video game movies, with the last half hour being the most faithful adaptation of the actual gameplay. And unlike most video game movies that try this, it didn't feel like an afterthought, but rather it was built organically into the narrative.
Finally, what's probably going to be both a positive and a negative is the writing. They got a great screenwriter in Jon Vitti, who specializes in animated comedies, having worked on several episodes of The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and The Critic. He was also a story consultant on films like Ice Age, Robots and Horton Hears a Who. That's a pretty good resume, and to write a screenplay for this cast means you're bound to have a masterpiece, right?
Well, here's the thing. Yes, this movie does have some good laughs, and some pretty risqué jokes that would go way over some kids' heads. But here's the fundamental difference between The Angry Birds Movie and The Lego Movie, and why THAT movie gets to be called a masterpiece. First off, the Lego brand has been around for over 65 years, with thousands upon thousands of various play sets and other assorted licensed products sold around the world. Angry Birds, as popular as it's become, is still a baby by comparison. Second, and this is probably the most important, Lego doesn't have a core storyline, whereas Angry Birds does. The reason why I brought this up is because the lack of a core narrative provided a greater challenge for director Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who had to build their own narrative from scratch, and they did so by embracing the 65-year legacy of the brand. Angry Birds tried to have their cake and eat it to, by simply adapting the premise of the game while attaching an original origin story. Now, while I did praise the third act of this movie for delivering an excellent climax, it takes a LOT of patience to get through the first hour. Perhaps another pass at the script could have balanced the film a little more than what we got.
The Angry Birds Movie is a good movie, and pushes video game adaptations in the right direction. It's loaded with talent, from the cast to the animation team, the directors and the writer. If I had to rank this among the various other animation companies, I'd put it in the mid-tier Dreamworks camp. It's nowhere near the masterpiece that was The Lego Movie, but it's entertaining enough for the family.
Alright, now it's your turn. What did you think of The Angry Birds Movie, have you seen it, or do you plan on it? Also, How well do you think Warcraft and Assassin's Creed will do both critically and financially? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, which sees Seth Rogen and Zac Efron re-team for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising!