Before Angry Birds 2, Sony proudly showed off the trailer for the new Jumanji movie (The Next Level) which the studio are obviously hoping will be their big Christmas hit. Its very existence, re-animated by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart et al, proves you can never write off an old franchise or an even older video game and there’s every chance the further adventures of the flightless cartoon birds and their green pig adversaries can feather the nest for Sony this summer.
Not that it’s a very good film. Let’s not go crazy here. Compared to Disney/Pixar, this is rudimentary in terms of artistry, character and script. There are hardly any gags in Peter Ackerman’s dialogue, not even terrible bird-based puns (ok, I liked the shot of a bird reading Crazy Rich Avians). And as for any wholesome or heart-warming family message, forget it. But that in itself may prove somewhat refreshing, an almost-anarchic antidote to the emotional manipulation of, say, The Lion King and Toy Story.
Its bright, primary-hued animation, poppy soundtrack, social media-savvy voice casting and relentless silliness should prove attractive to kids, even if accompanying adults will find the combination like eating too many sweets. And adults shouldn’t be eating sweets anyway. Like the hoop invented by Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy, this is, you know, for kids…?
The story has the birds – Red (Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gadd) and Bomb (Danny McBride) are now joined by a clever scientist named Silver (Rachel Bloom) – of Bird Island teaming up with their former porky prankster enemies on Pig Island who, lead by Leonard (Bill Hader), call a truce when they both come under threat from a vengeful eagle called Zeta (voiced uncomfortably over the top by Leslie Jones) who lobs ice balls filled with lava at them from her icy volcano lair on Eagle Island.
Taking the structure of a heist movie and a WWII mission movie (Where Eagles Dare?), it hops along swiftly enough, with time for a cute running subplot involving little ‘Hatchlings’ trying to recapture some eggs they’ve lost, rather like Scratch in the Ice Age movies forever chasing his acorn.
The tone and the plot take some time to settle, but once the frenetic direction of Thurop Van Orman hits its stride (and adults decide to surrender their senses and go along for the ride) the bird and pig unit become almost affable in their daftness.
The sequences in which they disguise themselves inside a giant mechanical bird costume (like Sesame Street’s Big Bird) and teeter into the Eagle Island control centre are actually pretty funny, including a break-dance off and some slapstick comic business in the men’s bathroom.
There are laughs, too, in Peter Dinklage’s voice work of Mighty Eagle and Sterling K Brown’s nerdy, dishevelled pig Garry and his terrible gadget inventions – all of which he tries out on ‘guinea’ pigs, of course.
Songs featured include Lionel Richie, David Bowie, Axel F, Kesha (singing the single from the film, Best Day) and – damn them – Baby Shark, so the mash-up could not be more complete nor more bewildering, with cameo voice appearances from Tiffany Haddish, Nicki Minaj, Awkwafina, and YouTube stars JoJo Siwa and David Dobrik. Eagle-eyed credit readers may also spot a mention, playing the character Zoe, of Brooklynn Prince, so charming as Moonee in The Florida Project a couple of years ago.
Perhaps most notable of all nestled in the credits are the acting debuts, as the Hatchlings, of the little Kidman-Urbans (the daughters of Nicole and Keith are called Faith Margaret and Sunday Rose) who are joined by the daughters of Gal Gadot and Viola Davis to voice the little birds. Good to see the movie business really opening up the talent pool there.
While Angry Birds 2 (they’re not so much angry as completely stupid) might not take flight, it can launch itself into the summer kids’ movie roster with colourful confidence that won’t ruffle any feathers. Cheep and cheerful, one could say. Ok, I’m over-egging it now, aren’t I?