Birds could be angrier

BIRDS VS PIGS: Non-violent conflict resolution isn't an option between angry bird Red (Sudeikis) and swine Leonard (Hader).


    May 26, 2016

    Birds could be angrier


    Action-comedy/97 minutes/Opens today

    Rating: 3/5

    The story:

    Red (Jason Sudeikis) is a hot-tempered bird among a happy flock on an island.

    After one meltdown too many, he is court-ordered to attend anger management classes, where he meets Chuck (Josh Gad), a manic speed demon; Bomb (Danny McBride), a bird who literally explodes when he gets upset; Terence (Sean Penn), a laconic giant who committed unspeakable crimes; and Matilda (Maya Rudolph), their New Age guru.

    One day, a ship arrives with green pigs bearing gifts, led by Leonard (Bill Hader). Red is the only bird suspicious of the foreigners and seeks the counsel of Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), a long-forgotten mythical figure.

    Meanwhile, the pigs' vessel turns out to be a Trojan Horse, and when the swine poach the birds' eggs to poach them for dinner, it's up to Red and his new friends to rescue their offspring.

    AT THREE billion downloads, Angry Birds - and its dozen or so editions - is the most downloaded mobile game of all time. I've contributed a few to this; Angry Birds Rio is my favourite title.

    But much like the movie's hero-turned-hermit Mighty Eagle, game developer Rovio's halcyon days are behind it, with last year seeing a third of its staff cut and an operating loss of US$15 million (S$20.7 million).

    With a production budget of US$73 million and a US$400 million ad blitz, The Angry Birds Movie is Rovio's feature-film gamble via its in-house Rovio Animation studio and Hotel Transylvania makers Sony Pictures Imageworks.

    Judging by its defeat of Captain America: Civil War to claim the top of the US box-office pecking order and takings of more than US$150 million worldwide so far, it's a wager that may pay off.

    Rovio is counting on fans of the puzzle games to be the movie's built-in audience but it is newcomers who will be left confused.

    For example, one of the pigs' presents is a massive slingshot. Players will instantly recognise this as the device the birds will use to launch themselves at the boar baddies, but it makes no sense in the context of the story.

    Likewise, at the movie's climax - when the birds lay siege to the pigs' citadel - Red and company discover their special abilities that are portrayed in the game. But with the exception of Bomb, there was no foreshadowing of these talents; they just happen for no rhyme or reason.

    However, Angry Bird virgins may still find something to like about directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly's flick.

    The animation is a delightful throwback to Tex Avery and Chuck Jones cartoons. Characters are subjected to violence that would have otherwise been lethal, and there are amusing details like the pose-to-pose movements of Chuck - voiced by Gad of Frozen's Olaf fame - Bomb's burning-fuse "ahoge" and Matilda's facial tics as she tries to keep a lid on her inner rage.

    Also, the set design by Pete Oswald is pure eye candy - from the bird-feather motif on the tree bark of Bird Island to the Rube Goldberg-like skyscrapers of Pig Island.

    The screenplay by Simpsons writer Jon Vitti proves less impressive. Older audience members might see the pigs' invasion of the birds' home and Red's Cassandra-like warnings as an allegory for Manifest Destiny colonialism or Europe's migrant crisis. Sudeikis himself said in a Heatstreet interview that he sees "the pig" as a personification of Donald Trump.

    Instead of going the whole hog like Zootopia (2016) or Ernest & Celestine (2012) on this xenophobic subtext, the movie coyly stops short of making a statement.

    The strongest thing The Angry Birds Movie has going is its joke-a-minute humour; it's the funniest film I've seen so far this year. Children and kids-at-heart will enjoy the slapstick and scatological comedy; those who've seen the trailer would be familiar with the cringe-worthy pee-drinking scene.

    For the adults, there are many clever avian and porcine puns - "cardinal sin" and "Pig Latin" come to mind, references to films like The Shining and Fifty Shades Of Grey, and visual gags like a pig eating a sausage.

    The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Heitor Pereira's boisterous score and pop numbers like one-hit wonder Tone Loc's Wild Thing and Demi Lovato's cover of I Will Survive. Dinklage's character even Rickrolls the audience at one point.

    For wordplay and animation enthusiasts as well as fans of the game, this is a faithful adaptation that will make time fly. For everyone else, this illogical and narratively bankrupt cash cow is for the birds.