Box Office Democracy: The Angry Birds Movie
Last month I started hearing some buzz that The Angry Birds Movie was the next Lego Movie, a license that everyone thought would make a garbage movie that instead made for a critical darling and a smash hit (if animated movies aren’t your thing, Iron Man was the same scenario way back when). I didn’t think it was possible because the trailer was so insufferable it became my least favorite part of seeing any kids’ movie the last few months, but I went in to the movie with my eyes open. The Angry Birds Movie is so bad that I want to believe all the good things I heard were part of some sort of insidious astroturfing campaign to buoy a terrible movie. It almost certainly isn’t true, but it’s vastly preferable to believing that actual people enjoyed this lazy tie-in movie that missed its moment by almost half a decade.
There’s a persistent problem among mediocre children’s movies of either severely lacking in plot or feeling like the three acts are completely separate entities with no connective tissue. Angry Birds dodges those particular critiques, but does so by throwing just so much plot at the screen and hoping anything sticks. There’s an anger management class, there’s an invasion of pigs, there’s the search to find a legendary hero, there’s even some light municipal corruption. Because of all this, there’s almost no way to figure out what the thematic message of the film is. I’m not sure if a kid watching this movie is supposed to be wary of outsiders or appreciating the value of being angry. There’s even a compelling case to be made for both believing in and not believing in the value of idols. It’s all over the map. What it does do effectively is deliver a ton of crude jokes, and judging from the reactions of the kids in my screening the more a joke could relate to poop or pee, the more laughs it would get from this crowd.
While a lot of this must have gone over the heads of the target audience, there was a fair amount of dark content in this movie that was rather striking. The movie is, ultimately, about this gang of pigs coming to this island full of birds and stealing all their eggs. Eggs are only treated as a foodstuff by the pigs and are expressly considered as unborn children by the birds so it’s a little strange to have a children’s movie be about fetal cannibalism. There’s also a joke where the main character calls a background character a pedophile for his tendency to offer hugs to people. This is a character who runs a business as a “hug trader” which, while it would be strange in the real world, doesn’t seem out of whack with the other things on this idyllic island full of birds that only feel happy. The Angry Birds Movie is an easy-going kids movie 90% of the time, but there’s a dark cynicism underneath that I found unappealing and grating.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this film is that the climax of the film is just a film adaptation of the gameplay of the mobile game. The birds set up a slingshot and fire themselves at the pig city and wreck the place. All the birds that are from the game have their powers regardless of if they’ve done anything suggesting they had those powers before, and this goes on and on. It doesn’t feel faithful to the rest of the film in any particular way, but rather feels like either someone at the studio or someone at Rovio Entertainment insisted it had to be in there or audiences would feel cheated or wouldn’t recognize it as an adaptation of the game or some nonsense. It didn’t fell necessary, it wasn’t visually interesting or funny, and it didn’t advance the plot— it just made me groan and roll my eyes.
It’s a shame that The Angry Birds Movie came out so close on the tail of Norm of the North, because it puts such a damper on my ability to really tear in to it. While Angry Birds is a bad movie at least it’s a movie, at least it has a story, at least it has a coherent style. My entire calibration system for bad animated movies might still be out of whack, because as little as I liked Angry Birds I appreciated the little things it did right, like the one joke that made me laugh or the more interesting soundtrack choices. It’s certainly damning with faint praise to say that Angry Birds is definitely not the worst movie I’ve seen all year— but it’s head and shoulders above the bottom, a triumphant sort-of bad.