Greetings, retr0pians. As games have evolved more and more over time, so have the ways we play them. If you’re not seeing one of your relatives playing the latest Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto installment on an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, chances are they’re getting invested in the latest app to hit the mobile store market, with games such as Temple Run, Cut the Rope, and others proving to be huge hits among our modern-day culture. Now, with that out of the way…do we REALLY need films based off of apps?
Putting aside Hollywood’s increasingly terrible (and I do mean terrible) track record with video games, it just doesn’t even make sense from a business standpoint! With films based on comic books, it makes sense because there are hundreds upon hundreds of stories you can adapt or even create for a medium as grand as the art of cinema. Mobile apps BARELY have a story as much as they do a basic concept. Nevertheless, film studios are determined to get the next big franchise, seeing as how they think we want a Cut the Rope movie, a Fruit Ninja movie, and the topic of today’s article, an Angry Birds Movie.
I will say that as a fan of the Angry Birds series of games myself, I wasn’t expecting anything grand, especially considering that the distributors are none other than the laughingstock of the film industry, Sony Pictures. However, when I learned who’d be helming, writing, and be involved with the film, I was intrigued. Former Disney folk, Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, were announced to be the directors, and Jon Vitti, a former writer of some of my all-time favorite shows such as King of the Hill and The Simpsons, as well as one of the eleven writers of the film adaptation of the latter show, was penning the screenplay. And don’t even get me started on the vocal cast; Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn, and….Smosh. Okay, aside from Smosh, I was interested.
Needless to say, I thought that this, along with the Ratchet & Clank movie, would be the two films that would single-handedly prove that it IS possible to make a good video game adaptation. So, how does the film itself fare? It’s….”eh”.
Starting off with the positives, there actually are quite a handful to be found. The animation, done by Sony Imageworks, is nothing short of beautiful. The sheer amount of attention to detail put into the tropical paradise of Bird Island is very remarkable, with plenty of crisp textures and a vibrant and inviting use of colors. The cartoonish but refined character designs and animation also help to make the film fun to watch and look at, whether it be Chuck’s speedy movements, the small Judge Peckinpah attempting to get around while standing on another bird and covering said bird with a robe, or the climax of the fim, where the birds invade Piggy Island with the intention of retrieving their eggs, showing off many of the birds’ different and unique abilities as they topple and destroy buildings in a chaotic, frantic, and fast-paced sequence that is quite possibly the most faithful representation a film has ever shown of its’ source game (it also helps that they even show the birds’ original, limbless designs in paintings). The humor, when it lands, is funny, and in some cases, downright hilarious. For instance, there’s a scene where our main trio, Red, Chuck, and Bomb, are climbing up a mountain to find Mighty Eagle, who they think can help them do something about Leonard and the pigs. After an amusing sequence of Chuck and Bomb making what they think are “Mighty Eagle noises”, ultimately resulting in an annoyed Red telling them to shut up, they finally reach the top of the mountain…only to realize that they went up the wrong one. Chuck and Red climb back down, but Bomb, dejected knowing that they just climbed up a mountain for nothing, just stays there and cries. A few days pass, and Red and Chuck, realizing that they left Bomb behind, go back up the mountain and get him. Not only is that one of the funniest things I’ve seen in an animated film in recent memory, it also proves that even though the movie as a whole isn’t that great, video game movies CAN be enjoyable if put in capable hands. In addition to that, there’s also some very well-timed and executed slapstick humor and sight gags, reminiscent of the days of classical animators such as Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and Bob Clampett. The film’s subtle, but truthful message of “anger is sometimes, but not always necessary” is also well-implemented and a good lesson for the children. There are also some rather heartwarming moments as well, one of which I won’t spoil since it does tie into the games in a great way. Unfortunately, the humor leads into what is, in my opinion, this film’s biggest flaw…the story.
The best way I can really describe the story is that the film is eager to get to the big final showdown between the birds and the pigs, resulting in the pacing of the film feeling like it’s moving along at Chuck’s speed. I’m not joking when I say that RIGHT AFTER the pigs’ welcoming party, Red, Chuck, and Bomb discover while sneaking on their ship that dozens upon dozens of pigs have stowed aboard. Oh and remember what I said about the jokes being funny “when they land”? Well, in addition to working on The Simpsons and a plethora of other shows, he was also the writer of the first two Alvin & The Chipmunks movies. And boy, does it show. When the story isn’t constantly telling us things we already know, such as Red being an outcast or the fact not much of Bird Island’s population likes him or even want him around, it feels the need to delve into some really lowbrow jokes. Okay, not exactly as lowbrow as Foodfight or Norm of the North, but still. There’s a scene where Chuck and Bomb swim around in a lake, swallowing and gurgling the water in it, only to react with horror and regret when Mighty Eagle takes a prolonged whiz in it (complete with a lovely view of a stream of urine), a spectacular amount of puns such as “pluck my life” and “Brad Pig”, a scene where they reference THE SHINING of all things, and a scene that takes place the morning after the egg theft, where Chuck suggests that they “replace” their stolen eggs, claiming that they will be “laying some eggs tonight” before he is immediately shot down by Red. Because…edgy humor in a kids’ movie for the sake of it, I guess?
But the really sad part is, despite its’ clunky and rushed nature, there are some good things about the story as well! The character arc of Red embracing the fact that anger is not the solution to everything, as well as him accepting Chuck and Bomb as his friends, has the potential to be something that’s funny, entertaining, and heartfelt, but it ultimately ends up being glossed upon in favor of rapid-fire gags that don’t even always hit the mark. It doesn’t help either that some of the other birds, like Stella, Hal, Bubbles, Terence (who isn’t even Red’s brother in this), and Matilda, outside of getting involved in the big egg rescue mission, making gags, and the latter being the teacher of the main trio during their anger management sessions, don’t really serve that much of a purpose, and they end up just being…there. Oh, and I almost forgot about the pigs. Like many of the birds, outside of Leonard, they’re really just there to either make jokes that miss more often than they land and get themselves into stupid antics until the climax, so as villains they aren’t really that great. For what it is, I will say that the story isn’t awful…it just needs a major amount of polishing.
The Angry Birds Movie is arguably the greatest video game film adaptation ever made…though that’s just comparing it to the other adaptations that have came and went through the years. If you’re a fan of the games and/or if you REALLY want to see it, then I guess I can’t really stop you. And for some of my viewers that may have kids, seeing as how they are this film’s target audience, they might get a kick out of it. But other than that…yeah, I’d suggest you go see Zootopia if it’s still playing.