Whenever a popular video game franchise reaches a certain level of ubiquity, a film adaptation usually isn’t far behind. Unfortunately, precious few films based on games actually manage to please fans and connect with audiences. This year could be poised to change the stigma that video games are almost universally bad, with high-profile releases like Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed on the way. However, if The Angry Birds Movie is any indication of what’s to come for the translation of popular games into mainstream films, we’re all doomed.
The animated film centers on an angry bird (imagine that) named Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) who has become an outcast among his community due to his short fuse and disgruntled nature. His Grinch-like existence is interrupted when he is court-ordered to attend anger management classes, where he meets fellow temper-stricken birds Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad, essentially reprising his Frozen character of Olaf) and Bomb (voiced by Danny McBride). However, the bird community at large is changed forever when a group of seemingly friendly pigs — led by Leonard (voiced by Bill Hader) — shows up on their shores.
Considering the simplicity that made the games a global phenomenon, The Angry Birds Movie actually does a fair job of taking the basic premise, characters and design of the source material into this new format. As far as a direct translation of the games is concerned, directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly (both of whom are making their debut here) actually deliver a film that hews closely to what fans would expect from a film version of that mobile app that started it all way back in 2009. After all, films based slimmer premises have gone on to great success. Remember The LEGO Movie?
However, where The Angry Birds Movie goes astray is that the film only superficially expands upon the game’s story. Sure, the characters now have personalities, but most of them are fairly one-dimensional. Instead of any kind of clever humor or subversive twist on the games, the film is content to shoehorn in references to films like The Shining for no apparent reason or offer bird or pig-themed variations of our own popular culture (e.g., “pluck my life,” “Instaham,” and a bazillion others). In fact, there are tons of little jokes and Easter eggs like that. It’s almost as if The Angry Birds Movie is aiming for Pixar levels of self-awareness but forgot to actually build a credible, compelling story on which to hang the many gags that came out of the writing process.
Sadly, this kind of lazy storytelling has become all too commonplace for today’s animated fare, which appears intended only to appeal to those with the lowest possible standards for comedy. Screenwriter Jon Vitti may be responsible for the first two live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks films, but his previous work on acclaimed television series like The Simpsons and The Larry Sanders Show officially makes The Angry Birds Movie a disappointment on multiple levels.
Even worse, the film’s cast features perhaps the most impressive list of modern comedy stars assembled in recent years. In addition to Sudeikis, Gad and McBride, The Angry Birds Movie wastes the comic talents of Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, and Bill Hader. Peter Dinklage is a standout as the mysterious Mighty Eagle — though he adopts essentially the same vocal tone he used in last year’s forgettable Pixels — and two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn is credited for essentially a non-performance that adds incredibly little to the overall story.
All in all, The Angry Birds Movie might work as a momentary distraction for hardcore fans of the game, and there are a few genuine laughs to be had. However, don’t let the gifted cast and colorful animation convince you otherwise: the film is just as one-dimensional as the game itself. In that regard, it may serve as a successful adaptation, but The Angry Birds Movie isn’t likely to propel the reputation of video game films in any positive direction. Keep your fingers crossed for Warcraft, gamers.
The Angry Birds Movie hits theaters nationwide on Friday, May 20.
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