Hey, remember your favourite game to play on your iPhone between classes in high school? Well it’s now a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster screening at a cinema near you! Yes, you read that correctly.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Upon entering the cinema and donning those surcharged 3D glasses, abandon all cynicism before taking your seat and viewing The Angry Birds Movie. Based on the popular mobile app of the same name and marketed directly at impressionable young children, the stench of “cash-in” has rarely reeked stronger from Hollywood’s output, and first-time directors Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis don’t try too hard to convince you otherwise. Plot twist – it isn’t terrible. Though far more than a few flaps away from soaring into greatness, Angry Birds is roughly as good as anything of such origins could hope to be.
A community of flightless birds live peacefully on a remote island, bar one; Red (Jason Sudeikis), an outcast with a problematic temper issue. After a furious outburst, Red is sentenced to anger management classes. These do little to help control his rage, but acquaint him with some similarly troubled birds – Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride). Out of the blue, a ship docks on the beach hosting a troupe of green pigs (led by Bill Hader) who the birds are blind-sightedly quick to welcome – except for Red, whose suspicions of the pigs is proven upon their theft of the island’s eggs.
Apparently aware of how little they have to work with from the source material, Reilly, Kaytis and writer Jon Vitti (of The Simpsons fame) instead turn their full attention to what humour can be mined from this kooky bird society, and Red’s pessimistic outlook on it. This gamble pays off quite well; though the jokes bounce rapidly between hit and miss, most at least earn a smile. A generous helping of adult jokes too may raise a few eyebrows, but most prosperous are the puns and the visual gags.
Which is the film’s other high point – the animation. While not of Pixar quality, it is colourful, vibrant and quite gorgeous to look at. This is, of cours, the standard for animated features these days, but things really come alive in the third act, when the birds finally bring the games to life and begin their assault on the pigs’ castle. It’s a spectacle that really pops in 3D, and may awaken the action junkie in each child – it’s certainly bound to give fans of the app a few kicks.
It’s a pity that everything between these two strong suites is handled with considerably less grace. The film struggles to stretch A to B, with the story flailing about, sidestepping and nearly falling apart on several occasions. The pigs’ arrival and motives are logic-defying, as is a deflecting side-quest to find the mythical Mighty Eagle (a miscast Peter Dinklage).
Most bizarre though, is the undertones of a dubious anti-immigrant message. Though likely to go over the heads of young viewers, it’s hard to ignore details like the Pig King (sporting a suspiciously Arab-looking beard) smuggling a number of refugee pigs below deck, then blowing up the bird city and taking their eggs. The birds then participate in an oddly patriotic song with an eagle, and retaliate by bombing the pig city, kamikaze-style… it’s all a bit uncertain, but should at least provide adult accomplices some amusement (or outrage) and something to debate afterwards.
It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s a satisfyingly hyperactive sugar high for its target audience – and it could have been a lot worse.
The Angry Birds Movie is available in Australian cinemas from May 12
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures