A mere three years have come and gone since the arrival of the first Angry Birds Movie, an inevitable screen adaptation of Rovio’s still-popular mobile video game IP. 2017’s The Emoji Movie, the immediate follow-up for their Sony Animation partners, would cause a disastrous low for both audiences and critics. Of course, it didn’t take long for the cartoon house to make an instant rise back, hitting a home run last Xmas with the Oscar-winning genius of Into the Spider-verse. Eight months later, what seemed even more inevitable in this era of money talking more than human English, The Angry Birds Movie 2 debuts onto screens this week, and the prognosis appears more rewarding than many would’ve led on. The more I think about it, the greater fondness I experience looking back on such a film whose narrative is stretched a little thin, but carries the best of intentions with a warm heart and a boatload of purely toon-y gags that would have my inner eight-year-old grinning.
The ripe conflict between the placid, mostly peaceful avians of Bird Island, and the rogue, childish residents of Piggy Island, has appeared to mellow in three years. For the cocky, quick-tempered Red (Jason Sudekis), and his porcine counterpart Leonard (Bill Hader), it’s nothing more than a good-natured prank war, a daily, fluid routine, keeping either on their toes regularly. At least, until Leonard panics and proposes a truce with the birds, something Red is hesitant towards until he discovers why. A roving series of attacks involving giant ice (and ice/lava hybrid) balls have plagued both islands, placing residents on high alert. The motivators, nefarious purple parrot Zeta (SNL’s Leslie Jones), and her daughter Debbie (Tiffany Haddish, easily rechanneling her over-the-top performance in The Lego Movie 2), want to take out the pair of communities, wiping out the populous in favor of lavish vacation hotspots.
None of this helps Red’s ego, exposed, in need of improvement; his abrasive personality causing an embarrassing speed-dating strikeout should be enough of an indicator. A mild fear of abandonment and increased vulnerability defines his character here, doubtful about his ability to work well with others, friends and newcomers alike. With their help, it’s a major crash course for the guy, as he reluctantly steps up to the plate as Bird Island’s resident voice of assurance. Needless to say, Sudeikis is blisteringly charming in the role, perhaps more so this time around.
Joined once more by close friends Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride), Red hesitantly enlists a crack squad of community leaders to infiltrate Zeta’s frozen wasteland lair, where off-the-cuff mayhem will ensue. The pure standout is perhaps Chuck’s older sis, the plucky, optimistic Silver (Rachel Bloom), a mathematical scientist bound to make large inroads for the whole “ladies in STEM classes” upswing. Leonard willingly contributes two notable colleagues of his own, the staunch tech expert Garry (Sterling K. Brown) and nerdy assistant Courtney (ever-on-a-roll Awkwafina). And when everyone’s together, they are purely unstoppable, allowing equal amounts of Looney Tune-y slapstick and clever one-liners flowing freely.
Such would be the highest mark of quality first-time feature director Thurop van Orman, assuming the seat previously held by Clay Kaytis. While the former Disney animator’s background is no less exemplary, I may look back on Van Orman’s work with better fondness, between The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and his recurring voice role on Gravity Falls. His experience telling fast-paced stories with instant eye-candy humor serves him well here, further differentiating one film from the other, the original seeming to rely heavily on stale crassness that rather displays the characters a bit poorly. Here, character development counts for something, more so than the metric ton of awkward 90s references and related soundtrack cues, and even one “Baby Shark” nod thrown for good measure, and that will age poorly.
Via the talents of Peter Ackerman (The Americans) and Eyal Podell (Cars 3), the story they and Van Orman attempted to tell, wasn’t that well-defined off the bat. It did seem like three different rewrites hastily intertwined together and at a mad rush to reach animators’ hands. The consensus amounts to a mixed bag, typical of an animated film attempting to stuff in too much story at once without taking a moment to let the elements breathe. Perhaps trim out a little of the fat, meaning a shoehorned C-plot involving a trio of hatchlings. At least we get the kids of Gal Gadot, Nicole Kidman and Viola Davis voicing them with infectious energy as they attempt to rescue three of their unhatched siblings.
Despite certain elements that could’ve been excised for pacing’s sake, the top-notch cast and Van Orman’s direction shine against the fractured story material. Sudeikis and Bloom are quite the flawless match, playing so well off each other, notably when physics humor is involved. Much of the supporting cast really make it worth chuckling, particularly Awkwafina, the operatic Gad, Eugenio Derbez voicing one of Jones’s associates, and Peter Dinklage returning as the lazy Mighty Eagle, looking fuller of himself than possible.
To think one could take anything away from a sequel most of us who aren’t hardcore fans didn’t ask for, going in I considered an impossible feat. The Angry Birds Movie 2 aims to trounce over those ready assumptions, playing more sophisticated compared to its elementary-level predecessor. But in trying to be funny, it’s still because Van Orman wants it to be, and not just for the sake of a hyper youthful audience. Like the previous film, it’s far from an animated masterpiece. A great cast working against a barely adequate storyline; here, it’s an improvement, but only by a precise margin. Should a threequel come along, I’ll hope for more in the way of forward momentum. For now, there’s not much else to expect here. A low-stakes late-summer family matinee fun that can please those young moviegoers having one last hurrah before school starts up again. I say they’ll make it count, slingshot and points multiple at the ready. (C+)
The Angry Birds Movie 2 is in theaters today; rated PG for rude humor and action; 99 minutes.