Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Sean Penn
Directors: Clay Kaytis, Fergal Reilly
Let’s get our children back!” exults a worked-up Red, to incite his fellow birds into hysteria, and then, into action. This is merely one of the numerous allusions to real-world politics resident in Angry Birds. There are snide evocations of invasion, economic appropriation, pop culture as opium for the masses, a just war, the fear of immigrants (amounting even to), xenophobia — and yet, these exist as no more than trifling mentions; cute “references” that are a sort of speciality of the Hollywood animated film.
There lies a real possibility with the material at hand (as history has shown us: stories with pigs can serve up actual, dire political allegory) to attain an allegorical status, but instead, the directors of the film abandon it to instead forge a simplistic, harmless moral fable about heroism, coming-of-age, the discovery of faith within, etc.
Set atop a natural kingdom of dense vegetation (and therefore, “pure”, free of capitalism), the narrative is set afoot when our protagonist, Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis, Hollywood’s new icon for middle-class left outs) is sent to an anger management class owing to a professional misadventure. This aside, the island is soon invaded by imperialist pigs who install a regime of endless enamour: they introduce the citizens (other birds, all wrecking balls with feathers) to pop music, rave parties, junk food and other environmental hazards. In the absence of any other real engagement, the birds take easily to this system of vulgarity and excess.
However, the in-house cynic is suspicious (for all its flaws, the film really does celebrate the conventional nerd, the conspiracy theorist): Red figures out that the pigs’ generosity is a mere front for a larger plan. He attempts to call upon a mythical, symbolic eagle to help, but to no avail. Eventually, he is proven right when the pigs escape with crucial property — the rest of the film is constituted by an elaborate mission to rescue hostages.
The privilege of the animated film is its ability to depart from conventionally accepted models of inertia, locomotion, anatomy or general physics (think: the image in a traditional cartoon film where a character runs off a cliff, onto the thin air, hovers over the ground for two seconds before looking at the audience in terror — an impressionistic portrayal of gravity). As such, it is an interesting opportunity available to most films animated in Hollywood to combine this quality unique to animation with the specific, inherent features of the various animate or inanimate species they centre their films around: fish, rats, toys, cars, robots, or in this case, birds.
The film, however, employs casual, witless anthropomorphism: birds that urinate, click selfies, climb mountains, walk around with a beer belly, bipedal a break dance — and bird-societies that are organised in a traditional, familiar manner; there is a court of justice, police to issue tickets, a therapy group. The reason this is supposed to be funny in an animation film is perhaps similar to why adults condescend to children when they mouth adult phrases — in doing so, they drain a phrase of its full import, its meaning and induce it instead with the mere phonetic, functional triumph of a mimic.
Largely, however, this is not the most sophisticated form of humour, and nor is irony: each time it builds up a moment to a searing crescendo, it cancels it out with a oversmart thud — often at the expense of its characters, all of whom it doesn’t mind making an idiot out of if only to score a laugh or two. Despite being set across multiple environments: a tropical island, a high mountain, an ocean and later, another, densely populated island-city, the film features no real sense of wonder or adventure — and instead, reduces it to a pursuit of accurate, boring physics, but not very complimentary to the immense probabilities of animation itself.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society