'The Angry Birds Movie': Weirdly dark for a kids' flick
A work of cinema or a cynical 97-minute ad for a line of consumer goods? That's the first question that springs to mind in the opening minutes of The Angry Birds Movie, a lavish computer-animated 3-D children's movie stuffed to the gills with rollicking fun, frolicking adventure, rockin' tunes, off-color humor - and more celebrity voice actors than you can shake a stick at, including Sean Penn, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, and Blake Shelton.
A work of cinema or a cynical 97-minute ad for a line of consumer goods?
That's the first question that springs to mind in the opening minutes of The Angry Birds Movie, a lavish computer-animated 3-D children's movie stuffed to the gills with rollicking fun, frolicking adventure, rockin' tunes, off-color humor - and more celebrity voice actors than you can shake a stick at, including Sean Penn, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, and Blake Shelton.
Shelton also contributes to the soundtrack. The 14-song collection has yielded several music videos and is currently on sale.
Scripted by prolific TV writer Jon Vitti (The Simpsons, The Critic, King of the Hill) and helmed by animators-turned-directors Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis, the movie is the latest addition to the obscenely large and lucrative franchise of Angry Birds video games, toys, books, comics, songs, and TV shows.
Although it's rated PG, its video-game-inspired frenetic pace, its prolific use of double entendres and bathroom humor, its heavy-metal- and rap-spiked soundtrack - not to mention the suggested violence that undergirds its story - make it a questionable investment for parents of young children.
Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses, Epic) stars as the film's reluctant hero, Red, a perpetually peeved pariah in the happy-go-lucky community of flightless birds who make their home in an Edenic village on Bird Island.
Orphaned before he hatched and mocked all his life for his loud, thick, Groucho Marx eyebrows, Red doesn't suffer fools gladly. That's a problem if you live in a village occupied by a guileless bunch who give new meaning to the term birdbrain. Red refuses to patronize one of the village's most popular shops, which offers daily hugs, and he assaults a customer who has hired him as a birthday clown.
What can you do with such unruly behavior. Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key) sentences Red to an anger-management class run by the hyper-neurotic Matilda (Rudolph) and attended by a trio of other malcontents: Chuck (Frozen's Josh Gad) is a yellow-plumed Speedy Gonzales-type who seems to be high on meth and likes to flirt with boys and girls alike; Bomb (Danny McBride of Eastbound & Down), a huge gorilla-bird who explodes like TNT when upset; and Terence (Penn), a massive red bird who looks like he could be Red's dad.
The story gets going when a ship full of pigs arrives. Led by a bearded king named Leonard (Bill Hader), the newcomers are green, identical-looking, and aggressively amiable. The birdbrains all are taken in, while Red is deeply suspicious - then alarmed when he discovers the ship is full of TNT. No one pays heed to Red's ravings until the pigs take off with every single egg. Those are the birds' babies!
The hungry, egg-eating pigs have genocide in mind.
Yes, I said genocide. It's also the only term appropriate for what eventually befalls the evil pigs at the hands of the now-angered birds and their hero, Mighty Eagle (Dinklage).
While virtually all other animated films out there conclude with a lesson about tolerance and love of the other, including the Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon series, Angry Birds begins with this position only to subvert the message entirely. It sets up a scenario that justifies hatred and all-out war.
Don't get me wrong. Angry Birds doesn't depict any on-camera violence against person, bird, or pig. But there's a darkness at the heart of this movie that's hard to reconcile.
Put it down to the filmmakers' rather desperate attempts to appeal not only to the movie's pint-size target audience but also to their chaperones.
The Angry Birds
Movie teems with allusions to R-rated fare such as Game of Thrones and The Shining, and it features a hair-raising soundtrack.
For every celebratory tune by Shelton ("Friends") and Demi Lovato ("I Will Survive"), we also get heavy-metal medleys that include snippets of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and full-length hard-core tunes such as Scorpions' "Rock You Like A Hurricane," Limp Bizkit's cover of the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," and KRS-One's "Sound of da Police" with its lyrics about crack dealers and gun-totin' cops.
I admit I fell victim to many a belly laugh watching The Angry Birds Movie. I loved Sudeikis' and Penn's performances. I'm not an advocate of Disney-cartoon-level naivete, and I tend to groove on subversive fare. But this movie has a creepy quality I can't shake off.
The Angry Birds Movie
Two stars (Out of four stars)
Directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. With voices by Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader, and Josh Gad. Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
Playing at: Area theaters.