I have a confession to make. I play Angry Birds 2. I play it during class, while my classmates are talking. I play it in the library using the university wi-fi. I play it on the train. Unlike the original Angry Birds game, where you can pay $1.99 for an ads-free version, Angry Birds 2 forces me to watch ads constantly and locks me out of the game every 20 minutes. It was one of these days, when I was sitting in the library, phone horizontal watching ads that I learned of the existence of The Angry Birds Movie. I was so excited! Finally, a movie about parabolic motion and crash dynamics! Which bird would be the protagonist? Would it be the angry red bird? The fat red bird? The black bird that blows up? Or that weird grey bird that twirls in circles in an unpredictable way such that I always waste it by sending it straight into the ground? What role would those green pigs have? The teaser for the movie begins, “Find out why the birds are so angry.” And I could not wait to find out.
The Angry Birds Movie is everything I had hoped for. Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish company that makes the mobile game, worked in collaboration with Sony Pictures Imageworks to, well, transform the two-dimensional game into a fully-fledged, three-dimensional film. The film uses Arnold Renderer – a global illumination system that is unique in that it is based on Monte Carlo methods (a class of computer algorithms often used in physics-based problems to simulate dynamic systems, such as fluids). It was the technology used by Sony Pictures Imageworks in earlier hits like Monster House, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Alice in Wonderland and it is perfect for the filmic incarnation of Angry Birds. The birds are rendered in such incredible detail that you can make out their individual feathers, an experience verging on the tactile (honestly, you just want to reach out and pet the baby chicks) that allows the characters to really come to life.
The character with the starring role is the red bird, aptly named Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis). Red is angry because he has no parents and bushy eyebrows, which caused him to be bullied as a child. A social outcast, he decides to rebuild his house on the beach, away from the city that shuns him. The film opens its take on the cinematic chase scene – instead of watching Red being chased by police, and dodging bullets, we see him chasing after an egg and being whacked in the head, be bitten by a fish and falling off numerous cliffs. Red is no rockstar – he’s a bitter, lonely bird whose job is to dress up as a clown for children’s parties. At the end of this opening chase scene, we see Red turn up late to the birthday party (because he almost drowned) and the parents refuse to pay him. At this point, his eyebrows enlarge and his facial expression darkens – he becomes the angry bird he is inside; he throws cake in the other birds’ faces, then smashes their egg, causing their the premature birth of their next chick.
The other angry birds – Chuck (the yellow bird, voiced by Josh Gad), Terence (the giant red bird, voiced by Sean Penn) and Bomb (the black bird that blows up, voiced by Danny McBride) all meet at an anger management course, which is run by the hippy Matilda (the chicken who drops explosive eggs out of her cloaca). On Bird Island, where the other birds are perennially smiling and giving out hugs for free, these angry birds are being forever punished for their bad attitudes. Their therapy sessions are a self-help utopia – they meet in a zen-style building full of rock sculptures and throw cushions, are asked to do yoga, write poetry and “paint their pain”. All the while, Red narrows his oversized eyebrows while muttering aggressive bird-puns (namely “pluck my life”) to a hilariously over-the-top soundtrack of angst (literally Limp Bizkit’s cover of “Behind Blue Eyes”, circa 2003).
The plot is both predictable and unpredictable in the worst ways – a journey of belonging for Red, which allows him to overcome a childhood of bullying is exactly what I was expecting, while the pigs (their leader Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader) arriving on a giant steel boat that just crashes into Red’s house is exactly not how I expected them to arrive. I did not expect them to bring nothing but trampolines and slingshots, nor did I expect them to put on a cowboy dance followed by an electronic music festival centered around Daft Pig (yes, green pigs in Daft Punk’s iconic helmets). The pure randomness of these plot choices is half gleeful absurdism, half desperate attempt to explain the premise of the Angry Birds game. The film’s dialogue is fast-paced, although it relies heavily on puns. The script is by Jon Vitti, who cut his teeth in the television worlds of The Simpsons, King of the Hill and The Office.
On the whole, The Angry Birds Movie lands for both children and adults. For children, the plot is easy to follow and entertaining. Its moralist message—that members of a community should work together and appreciate each other’s differences, and that even outcasts have a place—is a good one. It encourages our children to think critically and speak out, even at the risk of making oneself unpopular. For adults, you can’t expect Inside Out or even Zootopia – there are no moments of profundity that cause us to reflect on the neurobiology of depression, nor on the effects of stereotyping and the oppression of racial minorities. If anything, The Angry Birds Movie evokes an older style of Disney movie – as in Mulan, the humour thrives primarily off of the kookiness of its characters.
Certainly, there will be sceptics. The idea of a micropayment-heavy computer game where you pelt flightless birds at piles of green pigs stuck in dynamite crates being monetised into a film speaks straight to the heart of today’s zeitgeist. And yet, Angry Birds The Movie is so much more than that.