[NOTE: This article contains spoilers for The Angry Birds Movie. If you’ve played the game, they will probably not be especially surprising. Nevertheless, proceed with caution.]
It always struck me as odd that The Angry Birds Movie promises to explain why the birds are so angry. Don’t we already know the answer? It’s Green Piggies stealing their eggs, right?
At a presentation this week with filmmakers and cast in attendance, I had a chance to ask co-director Clay Kaytis that very question. He simply smiled and said, “It’s a little more than that.” Indeed, the film opens with a montage of trigger points throughout the life of lead bird Red (Jason Sudeikis), scored to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” We see him get romantically shunned, overcrowded in queues, mocked for his thick eyebrows, and sneezed on repeatedly in a movie theater. He smacks a doctor in the face for checking his reflexes, and gets so irate with a kid kicking a soccer ball that he punts the kid far out to sea.
But the montage ends with a real clue about the origins of the character’s anger. We see what appears to be Red’s birth—he punches his way out of an egg that’s been abandoned in a “Lost and Found” room. Sudeikis describes him as a “wise man or angry man on a ship of fools,” and suggests a comparison to Jack Nicholson’s R. P. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This prompts an inevitable wisecrack from Bill Hader, who plays lead pig Leonard: “This movie is a lot like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Especially the ending.”
Executive producer Mikael Hed, of Angry Birds‘ parent company Rovio, told me that the company always intended for a movie to be the first venue for the birds to talk and sprout limbs, hence why the creative teams on the Angry Birds cartoons couldn’t explore such options. Kaytis said he was fully prepared to work entirely with bouncing ball characters if he had to, but was relieved when he came on board to find out that the designs were slightly more articulated.
Kaytis and fellow director Fergal Reilly—a Sam Raimi protégé who storyboarded the action in Spider-Man 2—were given reasonably free reign to develop the story. There was no bible as such for the property, though there may be moving forward if the movie is a success. (It’s bound to be profitable for Sony regardless, as they are only distributing; Rovio made and financed the film independently.)
The story approach seems similar to something like that of Ron Howard’s on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The story we know (in this case, birds firing themselves at buildings with catapults) looks to occupy the third act of the movie, with the other two-thirds of the film showing how these characters got to that point. At the beginning of the tale, the birds are all flightless and live on an isolated island. Never having been able to travel far on tiny wings, they’ve developed a society that’s pretty happy and optimistic, save for a few bad seeds like Red. Sudeikis’ character soon finds himself on trial for anger issues, and subject to the worst possible punishment: anger management classes.
It is in these sessions, though, that he meets Chuck (Josh Gad), a.k.a. the Yellow Bird, who does everything at top speeds, speaking in rapid-fire (kind of like Blur from the old Transformers cartoon). There’s also Bomb (Danny McBride), who wants to exert better control over his ability to literally explode from rage, and Terence, a.k.a. the Giant Red Bird, who only communicates in grunts and whose brief audial memories of screams and police sirens tell us all we need to know about how scary he is. Sessions are managed by Matilda (Maya Rudolph), a formerly angry bird who has suppressed her rage very deep down inside.
McBride described playing Bomb as being therapeutic, admitting, “He’s a lot like me.” Gad, on the other hand, lamented, “Chuck has a much better metabolism than I do.” He added that, per expectation, Chuck will indeed sing at some point in the movie, joking that it’s a mandate in his contracts now.
When the pigs first enter the movie, they appear to be coming in peace, offering brand new inventions the birds have never seen… like TNT, trampolines, and a slingshot. But something’s not quite right, and only Red seems to notice.
Enticed by the sight of an egg, Leonard the pig enters a fantasy of a romanic outing with the egg (as the song “Close to You” plays, natch). Needless to say, this comes off a little weird. Do the pigs want the eggs for dinner or marriage? Most likely, Leonard just likes to play with his food. Either way, Bill Hader imbues Leonard with humor, going very broad (in a good way) with the li’l piggie’s voice. Hader describes the voice as, “The Hee-Haw Music Man… Basically, it’s my dad.”
Unable to convince their fellow birds that the pigs are up to no good, Red, Chuck, and Bomb go looking for the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), a superhero-type figure who hasn’t been seen in many years and who is believed by some to be a myth despite all the statues erected in his honor. If you’ve seen the latest trailer, you know the urination gag that follows; we were shown an even longer version, with more watersports and fun in the “lake of wisdom” that turns out in fact to be a lake of whiz. Disney veteran Kaytis says you won’t see anything like that from his previous employer, and you can thank producer Hed’s “slightly twisted” sense of humor.
Present-day Eagle is overweight and senile and not much help initially, so it’s up to Red and his friends to try to stop the pigs stealing all the birds’ eggs. Though they fail, they do manage to get all their feathered friends riled up—aptly, angry. Gathering up all the TNT and catapults that were left behind, they travel to Piggie Island for revenge, and that’s when the Angry Birds scenarios you’re familiar with kick in. The slingshot sequences are clearly the money shots—and they look good!—though the movie also chooses this moment to bring back the opening montage’s sneezing bird, resulting in a trail of snot all over the place; all the bodily fluid stuff seems more to Mr Hed’s taste than mine.
Sudeikis says that the role “has put me in touch with my inner anger. Just like waking up.” He calls the experience of recording the dialogue cathartic, comparable to “a really long drunken night of karaoke.”
Asked what makes them angry in real life, McBride cited the traffic on the way to the Sony lot, while Gad said, “A reality TV star could be the next president of the United States.”
Look for a new video featuring the hatchlings to come online in time for Easter—we got a sneak peek and it’s as sweet as creme eggs, with the child actors hilariously and cutely attempting to sing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (even though they’ve never heard of it before). Don’t look for many more new Angry Birds brand crossovers, though, like, say, The Force Awakens, as Hed says they’re focusing on solely expanding their own brand in the immediate future.
Come May 20, theatrical audiences will help decide that future.
Are you ready to flip for these birds? Let us know in comments.
all images SPE, Inc./Trae Patton – © 2016 CTMG, Inc.