It was with quite a bit of reluctance that I responded to the invitation to attend an advanced screening of The Angry Birds Movie. Sure, I should have an open mind heading in to review any movie, and not go in with any pre-existing criticisms and judgments swirling in my head. But, c’mon! The movie is based on a mobile-app game centered on flightless birds using a slingshot to attack green pigs who stole their eggs. I think we all know this is nothing more than a cash grab aimed at parents of undiscerning prepubescents.
Normally, I’d just let the email go unanswered, but I have two young nieces, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with them while knocking out a movie review. Two birds with one stone. (See what I did there? See? SEE?!?!? Oh, nevermind.)
Initially, when the animated flick was over, I was unimpressed but not intensely critical of what I had just sat through. It was roughly 90 minutes long, didn’t drag on too long, and seemed to keep the girls’ interest throughout. There were a handful of jokes I kinda chuckled at. The animation appeared top-notch. The voice-work consisted of a number of very funny and talented actors. In the end, the kids in the audience loved it, with them breaking into applause when it was over.
I figured I’d give it a C-grade or something like that and call it a day. But, because I attended the screening on Saturday morning but decided to hold off on writing the review on Tuesday something happened. I thought about and rehashed the movie’s message in my head for a bit, and realized it was a bit more sinister than I initially realized.
As we all know now, big-budget feature-length cartoons must present some kind of overriding social message, especially since the rise of Pixar. With studios shelling out hundred of millions of dollars on animated features, they now expect the movies to have stronger scripts, specifically if they aren’t centered on existing stories. They’ve seen the critical acclaim that has been tossed towards movies like Wall-E, Inside Out, the Toy Story franchise and The Incredibles, among others.
Therefore, Jon Vitti, veteran of The Simpsons, who wrote that franchise’s well-received movie, was tapped to bang out the plot. And, what we were given was essentially a beginner’s guide to Trumpism. Yeah, yeah, I know. The film was in production well before Donald Trump’s campaign. But, the know-nothingness and irrational fear and anger that pervades his candidacy was already well in place. And Vitti’s script feeds off of that mindset.
Am I looking too far into a dumb kids movie based off of a video game? Normally, I’d go ahead and say yes. However, let’s just take a look at the elements of this story and see if I’m being silly, shall we?
The movie starts by introducing us to Red (Jason Sudeikis), who apparently has a job baking cakes and performing as a clown at children’s birthday parties. He shows up late to a party with a damaged cake, but doesn’t take kindly to the father saying he won’t pay for the service. So he slams the cake into the dad’s face and ends up causing a commotion that leads to the premature birth of a chick, who now thinks Red is his dad.
Due to his actions, the island’s court sentences him to anger management. Of course, we are supposed to believe that Red is the victim here, even while he treats the members of the court and the other anger management students, including Chucky (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride), like shit. Why? Because Red is an orphan and an outcast, and his anger is a shield or something.
Now, that would be interesting if they kept along that route, and dived into the character’s anger issues headlong. But that’s not what they do. Instead, the movie presents irrational anger as not only an acceptable character trait, but as a virtue. And it combines that with rank xenophobia, nationalism, and an embrace of conspiracy theories, essentially indoctrinating kids with the core tenants of Trumpism.
After we’ve established that Red is a perpetually mad loner, the movie introduces us to the pigs, led by Leonard (Bill Hader). They arrive on a ship one day and are eventually embraced by the bird community. Only Red, though, feels like there is something nefarious up with them, and tries to warn the island that the foreign pigs are up to no good. After being ignored by the other citizens, Red takes Chuck and Bomb to ask Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) for help, only to discover that he’s an over-the-hill narcissist resting on his laurels.
So, of course, Red is proven right about the pigs, as they end up stealing all of the birds’ eggs and feel back to their own island across the sea. Not only have they destroyed the birds’ country with their presence, but they’ve absconded with its future and wealth. The downtrodden and heartbroken birds look to their one shining light, the lone angry conspiracy theorist who was correct all along.
This is how we get to the ‘game’ portion of the movie, as Red leads the birds across the ocean on a make-shift ship — see, they can’t fly (accept for Mighty Eagle) — along with a huge slingshot and other helpful tools left by the piggies. We then see Pig Island completely destroyed by Angry Birds while the eggs are safely recovered. And Red is recognized as a hero. The end.
I can’t grade the movie at this point. On the surface, it seems harmless enough. But its underlying message is something I actually find way too disturbing for kids. It not only says that you should view immigrants and foreign visitors with skepticism, but that it is best if you are openly hostile and uninviting to them.
It also preaches that not only should you not suppress your anger, but that you should fully embrace it, regardless of how irrational or misplaced it is. Finally, if you have an inkling that something isn’t how it seems, always follow your notion, regardless of how silly and ridiculous it appears. Because you only have to be right once. Just forget about all the other times your feelings and beliefs might cause real-life, lasting damage.