★ ★ ½
There have been myriad films based on children’s toys, and a few based on popular video games. But The Angry Birds Movie attempts to, for the first time in history, transform a downloadable smartphone app into a full-length feature. In order to create a plot out of a game that consists of hitting nefarious green pigs with birds launched from a slingshot (a silly but addictive premise), the film hones in on how those two types of creatures were introduced in the first place. The story focuses on Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), a loner bird with a serious anger-management problem who hasn’t exactly engendered a lot of goodwill with his neighbors. When a boat full of mysterious green swine turns up at his island community, Red finds that he’s the only fowl who isn’t greeting the new arrivals with open arms. Despite pleading with his brethren to “ask questions” about what the pigs’ true motives are, the porkers divert attention with an EDM concert while making off with every egg in town—which they intend on cooking and eating. After a fruitless attempt to spring the town’s legendary hero, Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), into action, Red and his pals, the motormouthed Chuck (Josh Gad) and the aptly named Bomb (Danny McBride), are forced to literally launch an attack against the pigs’ castle in order to get the eggs back before they are eaten (or they hatch).
Although the film never approaches instant-classic status, Angry Birds certainly possesses a winning charm. The casting is inspired, starting with the decision to have the sardonic Sudeikis give life to the movie’s central ornery, damaged wisecracker. His performance as Red is flanked by superb work from his former Saturday Night Live chums Bill Hader (a strong candidate for the most versatile voice actor in Hollywood) as the pigs’ leader, and Maya Rudolph as Red’s exasperated therapist Matilda. If nothing else, parents will have a fun time counting the film’s many bird- and pig-related puns, which range from amusing to groan-worthy (and often manage to be both).
Most importantly, the movie preserves the look and animation style of the various different types of creatures from the source material, from the tubby, rounded Red to characters like the green bird who serves as a boomerang. As for the new additions, viewers will leave wanting more of Dinklage as the aloof town icon, who seems content to live as a guitar-strumming loon resting on his many laurels.
There isn’t too much beyond the visually appealing surface, however. Unlike some of the more subversive animated films to hit multiplexes in recent years, the plot here mostly exists to provide wordplay gags and one-liners that may fly over the heads of both kids and parents in the audience (such as pop-culture references to Jon Hamm or a flyer for DJ “Steve Aionki”). Also, the movie spends too much time on the pigs’ implausible takeover of the island to give Red any sort of true hero’s journey. Besides one uproarious scene involving the central trio, Mighty Eagle, and a bowel movement (a bit inexplicably given away in the trailer), Angry Birds coasts on the charm of its all-star cast (which, oddly enough, includes brief contributions from two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn), and sometimes feels insubstantial as a full narrative.
This isn’t likely to bother younger viewers, though, who will be captivated by the vibrant splashes of tropical color and the work of proven voice actors such as Gad (whom fans will recognize as Olaf from Frozen) and Hader (who was the lead in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs). The filmmakers and Rovio Entertainment are smart enough not to reinvent the wheel here, and they deliver a crowd-pleaser just good enough to justify the inevitable sequel.