2016 is shaping up to be the year in which movies based on video games are either going to win audiences over or die trying. While epic live action films based on World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed are on the horizon, Sony Pictures has beaten them both to theaters with the animated The Angry Birds Movie, based on the one-time immensely popular video game app created by Finnish company Rovio. But turning a simple, repetitive game into a feature-length film has proven to be not only in this case too difficult, but frequently offensive in the mixed messages it sends to kids.
The plot, as it were, provides an answer to the question that has presumably perplexed players of the game since it was introduced in 2009: why are the birds so angry? When we first meet them, the flightless birds are living contentedly on their little island paradise – all except the grumpy, dour Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), who’s banished to an anger management class when his temper gets the best of him on the job (he’s a clown dispatched to entertain freshly hatched baby birds).
Red, however, is the only one who’s suspicious when a boatload of green pigs arrive on the island, charming the birds – who previously thought the rest of the world was uninhabited — with gifts and distractions while secretly launching a plot that is not only rather macabre but could prove disturbing to younger viewers.
That’s not the only thing disturbing about The Angry Birds Movie, which tries to mask its slender plot and one-dimensional characters with lazy attempts at silly, pun-filled humor and flat pop culture references. That in itself makes for a grueling viewing experience, but the movie’s blatant xenophobia and ultimately militaristic worldview turn this stupid cartoon into an actively unpleasant sit.
The pigs are foreigners, you see, and the movie teaches that foreigners – with their shiny goods manufactured abroad – cannot be trusted. They are here to take over our society and steal our most precious belongings, as it were. The birds are portrayed as happy little innocents, more than a little naïve, while the pigs are cunning, shady and duplicitous. It’s also perhaps no accident that the pigs’ leader, Leonard (Bill Hader), bears a beard that looks somewhat Middle Eastern in origin (nor is it an accident, I suppose, that the birds’ mythic leader is known as Mighty Eagle, although this symbol of American pride and strength is not exactly given a flattering representation either, in all fairness).
To make the movie even more morally dubious, it seems the only response possible for the birds is, of course, an angry one – more than angry, in fact, as they pretty much assault the shit out of the pigs’ home city in the movie’s overlong finale. So the message is that since foreigners will come and do bad things to you, the only reasonable thing you can do in return is go all shock and awe on them. Donald Trump will probably love this picture.
Sadly, there’s enough color, juvenile gags and noise to keep the attention of little ones too, but we suspect that they won’t remember much of it after they leave the theater. With an all-star cast (Danny McBride, Peter Dinklage, Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn and Josh Gad all provide voice work) collecting quick paychecks, directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly – along with screenwriter Jon Vitti – have fashioned an empty, pointless film here that is only memorable for its hateful underlying message and the vacuous way in which it’s delivered.
All this (and a reported $100 million budget) to make a trifling little video game into an equally inconsequential and brainless movie. Since it’s been several years since the Angry Birds game was at its peak, all we can hope is that The Angry Birds Movie won’t take wing at the box office.
The Angry Birds Movie is in theaters on Friday (May 20).