My 10-year-old daughter must have sensed my trepidation on the way to the Angry Birds Movie screening, because she said, "Don't worry, Mom. Maybe it will be a pleasant surprise, like The LEGO Movie." She knows I'm not big on movies based on brands. LEGO was an exception because it wasn't locked in to a specific story line. But thanks to the ubiquitous game, Angry Birds has a set premise: the birds are angry, and the pigs are villains. In the eponymous film we find out why. And, while it doesn't always soar, it's definitely not for the birds, either.
That's good news for parents, since every child between the ages of 2 and 12 seems set on flying directly to the theater to catch this animated adventure on opening day. But before you go, you probably have some pressing questions—especially what exactly earns the flick a PG rating, and whether it's worth the extra splurge to see it in 3D. We watched the film with eagles eyes and have the answers.
In a thrilling nod to the game, the movie immediately takes off with an action sequence, as Red (an appropriately testy Jason Sudeikis) navigates a treacherous, obstacle-filled route in order to get to his gig as a kids' party clown. But when he arrives late with a smashed cake, the family chastises him, and Red literally cracks up: his tantrum ends with a broken egg. Since he lives in a society of happy birds, he's sentenced to an anger management program run by the New-Agey Matilda (Maya Rudolph) along with Terence (Sean Penn), Bomb (Danny McBride) and Chuck (Josh Gad, aka Olaf from Frozen voicing a similar endearing/annoying sidekick).
Red's fellow angry birds' attempts to befriend him have a Donkey/Shrek quality. In fact, Red is a lot like that grouchy, green ogre: He never has a kind word for anyone and intentionally lives alone, though we find out via flashback that his 'tude is due to being a bullied orphan. At first it seems that Red's new pals will soften him up, and that the moral of the story will be the need for companionship and self-control. But once the pigs arrive on Birdie Island, the movie's message gets murky (though the proceedings become much more amusing).
RELATED: More Parent Movie Reviews
The pigs supposedly come in peace, and initially dazzle the birds with their various inventions (sling shots, catapults, and other equipment from the game). But Red, as suspicious as he is irate, doesn't buy it. Sure enough, the pigs soon make off with all of the birds' eggs, essentially kidnapping their unhatched children, and the film plays out like a typical hero's journey. Red and his cohorts seek assistance from the birds' long-absent god, the now out-of-shape Might Eagle (Peter Dinklage), and galvanize the community to travel to Piggie Island to save their offspring. Like the opening sequence, the climactic battle is inspired by the app, as the birds, now all fired up, show off their respective powers, which will be familiar to anyone who's ever played the game: Chuck is faster than the Flash; Stella drops bombs; Bomb explodes, and Terrence is just huge.
While you certainly don't need to be familiar with the game to enjoy the movie, a built-in love for Angry Birds helps, as does being prepubescent. This is really a children's movie, as opposed to a family film, and as such features lots of slapstick and lowbrow humor. Happily, the violence is of the Three Stooges variety and was a hit judging from the cackling kids around me. (For tykes, perhaps there's something cathartic about watching Red have out-of-control meltdowns. As a mom, it triggered my PTSD.) There are also lots of jokes about bodily functions, including the most drawn-out peeing gag this side of A League of Their Own. Overall, though, the film is pretty inoffensive. And the edgier jokes—lines like "Pluck my life" and the Mighty Eagle ogling a female bird—will probably fly over younger viewers' heads. Bonus: It's a brisk 90 minutes in length.
As for whether to pay for 3D, the action sequences are certainly more thrilling when everything seems to be coming at you. For tweens it's probably worth the money. But for younger ones, I'd skip it, as it might be too intense. Also, a warning for parents of little ones: The pigs attempt to boil and eat all the eggs, which could be upsetting for sensitive tots. In the end, the movie's moral is unclear. Obviously as parents, we want our kids to learn how to temper their emotions, but Red's infectious anger is what saves the day. According to my 10-year-old, I'm overthinking it. "It's just silly fun mom."
The Angry Birds Movie is rated PG and opens nationwide on Friday, May 20.
All photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc.