It's hard not to have a few biases going into “The Angry Birds Movie.” In the most cynical view of what gets made in Hollywood, an addictive app might just be at the bottom of the pile, languishing there in suspicious squalor with movies adapted from board games and amusement park rides.
Comic books get away with the “it’s really about characters” justification. Even some video games have an essential story behind them. A puzzle game, though? You can’t even pretend.
The clever ones use this starting point as a blank slate on which to create something that is maybe cool, unexpected, or just not terrible. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the current masters of this, implausibly crafting compelling stories out of the bleakest source material.
”The Angry Birds Movie” doesn’t quite achieve the relative superiority of “The Lego Movie,” but it’s definitely not terrible and even surprisingly fun and heartfelt at times.
It’s the directorial debut of veteran animator Clay Kaytis (“Frozen,” “Tangled”) and storyboard artist Fergal Reilly (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” '”The Iron Giant”), who are working off a script from “The Simpsons” alum Jon Vitti. The concept is simple: how did the angry birds get so angry?
The short answer is they’re not angry by nature, more by circumstance. And at first, the angry ones are sort of the outcasts of this happy, bright little society of flightless birds and endless avian puns (“pluck my life”).
The story is centered on Red (Jason Sudeikis), a loner bird who is consistently aggravated by the minor inconveniences and annoyances of life on Bird Island - like someone sneezing close to his popcorn, or a kid kicking a ball against his house.
His bad luck and short temper land him in group therapy for anger management alongside some other volatile types like the manic Chuck (Josh Gad), the dimwitted Bomb (Danny McBride), and the bruiser Terence (whose grunts are supposedly the work of Sean Penn - an even more dubious distinction than Vin Diesel as Groot). And they all try to work through their issues with the free spirit instructor Matilda (Maya Rudolph).
Meanwhile, some pigs arrive by ship.
Even typing that sentence feels about as inorganic as the actual plot development, but, “Angry Birds” has to get to a place where the birds are fighting pigs, so why not make it a colonialization parable?
At first it’s just a few pigs, led by Leonard (Bill Hader) – they’re fun and have gadgets and fire and party supplies. Then more come and then even more, and suddenly Bird Island is overrun by pesky pigs. Red is suspicious of their intentions, but everyone else is buying the snake oil. It's only when the pigs abscond with the town’s unhatched eggs that the masses realize they’ve been had.
The beginning is definitely the strongest, as we explore the humor and oddities of Bird Island and its quirky inhabitants. It starts to go downhill when the pigs arrive, although there is a fairly enjoyable diversion when Red, Chuck and Bomb go off in search of the mythical Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) for help.
By the final showdown, the plot has lost most of its narrative steam, but that’s more a disclaimer for the parents than the tots who will likely delight in the unruliness.
Oh, and if it's not obvious by now, the film is bursting with talent like Kate McKinnon, Titus Burgess, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale and Billy Eichner. What should be a fun bonus, though, might end up being more of a distraction for some trying to figure out the owner of that vaguely recognizable voice.
Ultimately, “The Angry Birds Movie” does a decent job exploring the merits of anger. It’s no “Inside Out,” but it has heart and life, which isn’t too shabby for any film - app or not.
“The Angry Birds Movie,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “rude humor and action.” Running time: 97 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.