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Film Review: ‘The Angry Birds Movie’

Rich in color, energy and perfectly dreadful puns, this film adaptation of the Finnish gaming phenomenom surpasses all cynical expectations.

With:
Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Sean Penn, Titus Burgess, Kate McKinnon, Ike Barinholtz, Hannibal Buress, Billy Eichner, Danielle Brooks, Tony Hale, Blake Shelton.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1985949/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Agreeability gets you so far in life, but when the chips are down, it helps to lose your temper sometimes. That’s a pretty unexpected moral takeaway for a kids’ movie, and it’s just one surprise of many in “The Angry Birds Movie,” a fast, fizzy and frenetically entertaining extension of the manic gaming franchise that, at its zenith, had children of all ages glued to their smartphone screens. Establishing a basic psychological motivation for the fiery disposition shared by the feathered folk of Bird Island, this irreverent origin story takes an appropriately loose, elastic approach to its larger narrative, with frequent detours to fill in daffier details of its mad, mad, mad, mad story world. 

The result, machine-tooled and technically lustrous as it is, more or less matches the bouncily anarchic spirit of the game, debuted in 2009 by Finnish corporation Rovio Entertainment. While not quite as inspired or subversive as “The Lego Movie,” it’s a comparably cheering standout in the generally cynical gallery of product-inspired product — at every creative level, it certainly knocks the fluorescent spots off the harmless-but-charmless “Ratchet & Clank” video-game adaptation that recently hit theaters.

For first-time feature directors Clay Katis and Fergal Reilly, both longtime studio animators with major Disney and Warner Bros. credits to their names, it’s an impressive step up to the plate: From the reach-out-and-touch-the-screen plushness of the eponymous creatures’ plumage to the carefully considered 3D design, the film is a frequently dazzling feat of craftsmanship, saturated in tropical oil-pastel shades. If “The Angry Birds Movie” arguably arrives a couple of years past the pop-cultural peak of its source material, the finished film justifies Rovio’s avoidance of a quicker cash-in effort: Brightly accessible to viewers who have never so much as tapped the app, it could easily found a big-screen franchise of its own.

If anything, the high-gloss beauty of the production sits slightly at odds with the gleefully scrappy approach of writer Jon Vitti (“The Simpsons,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks”), whose hell-for-feather screenplay catapult-fires a barrage of stray media references, coarse sight gags and deliciously terrible punnery at viewers — rendering the game’s simple birds-versus-pigs narrative motor practically incidental. A breakneck pre-credit sequence zips through the lush, iridescent foliage of Bird Island, a peaceable kingdom of complacently flightless fowl, introducing its hapless, heavy-browed hero Red (sparkily voiced by Jason Sudeikis) mid-assignment as an inauspiciously cranky children’s entertainer. An ensuing bout of avian rage against his employers lands the aptly colored Red — already a social outcast in his otherwise jolly community — in court, where he’s handed the island’s maximum penalty: anger management classes with New Age-y therapist Matilda (Maya Rudolph). (She bills herself as a “free rage chicken”; if that tickles you, prepare to guffaw consistently for 97 minutes.)

There, Red aligns with characters who’ll be familiar to viewers of spinoff TV series “Angry Birds Toons”: hyperactive cock-of-the-walk Chuck (Josh Gad), potentially explosive dim-bulb Bomb (Danny McBride) and menacing, inarticulate lummox Terence (given a low, steady growl by Sean Penn, the wittiest casting pick of the film’s all-star voice ensemble). Their combined antics consume a fun but somewhat distracted first third. Greater focus and tension arrive with a ship full of visitors from distant Piggy Island: Bearing slingshots, fruit baskets and a penchant for Blake Shelton music, these green-skinned porkers claim to come in peace, with only Red unpopularly questioning their goodwill. Experienced “Angry Birds” players will know he’s right to be wary. More than anything, these grunting invaders crave a delicacy that a dyslexic Dr. Seuss might pair with green ham: eggs.

Though Bird Island is already heavily anthropomorphized — complete with wood-carved selfies and mother-chick yoga classes — the mutually marauding antics that ensue pit the pigs as vulgarly humanoid, egg-guzzling antagonists to their unspoiled idyll. There’s an environmentalist allegory to be drawn from their showdown, not that the filmmakers are overly concerned with such subtext given such a merry array of one-and-done jokes and equally disposable plot asides to charge through.

“The Angry Birds Movie” knows it’s about the candy-colored details rather than any bigger picture: Viewers may well have forgotten what even happened before the closing-credits diversions — suitably soundtracked to Demi Lovato sugar-rush cover of “I Will Survive” —  are through, but the most outlandish gags will stick longest. The best of them all, involving a doting mama bird regurgitating food into her children’s lunch boxes, at least injects a modicum of biological accuracy into this high-flown fantasy.

At least a few worthwhile life lessons, however, survive this otherwise infectiously inconsequential whirlwind, not least its defense of the occasional black mood amid a riot of color: “Why do we have to agree?” Red pleads with his Stepford-sunny bird brethren. “Why does it matter that we’re not all the same?” Such statements, combined with a wry subplot involving gone-to-seed bird leader Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) that warns of the dangers and disappointments of hero-worship, make a welcome stand for individual thought and expression — hardly the first outcome you’d expect from a film based on such a hypnotizing gaming phenomenon. Impressionable tykes can do what they will with such messages; some, parents should be warned, may never eat scrambled eggs again.

Film Review: 'The Angry Birds Movie'

Reviewed at Picturehouse Central, London, May 7, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 97 MIN. 

Production: A Columbia Pictures, Rovio Animation presentation. Produced by John Cohen, Catherine Winder. Executive producers, Mikael Hed, David Maisel.

Crew: Directed by Fergal Reilly, Clay Kaytis. Screenplay, Jon Vitti, from a story by Mikko Polla, Mikael Hed, John Cohen. Editors, Kent Beyda, Ally Garrett; music, Heitor Pereira; production designer, Pete Oswald; music supervisors, Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe; supervising sound editor, Tom Myers; re-recording mixers, Gary A. Rizzo, Myers; visual effects supervisor, Danny Dimian; animation supervisor, Pete Nash; line producer, Julie Zackary; associate producer, Kim Rozner; casting, Linda Lamontagne.

With: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Sean Penn, Titus Burgess, Kate McKinnon, Ike Barinholtz, Hannibal Buress, Billy Eichner, Danielle Brooks, Tony Hale, Blake Shelton.

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