Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 37 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 3; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
This is no Pixar film—instead, it springs from a popular video game millions play on their smart phones—but it is fun, and at times it even reminded me of the far superior Inside Out and twice of The Wizard of Oz. And like 99% of animated films, it imparts a moral lesson or two for young and old well worth noting.
The hero Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) lives on Bird Island among his flightless but jolly avian neighbors. Very unjolly himself, indeed downright cynical, he is largely an outcast. His anger lands him in trouble, and so the towering judge, whom he exposes as actually one small bird standing atop another, both covered by a long robe, sentences him to an anger management Class.
Even before Red enters the building he gets angry again at the artificial bird sign outside chirping incessantly its message of welcome. After smashing it to pieces, he enters and is welcomed by the New Age-like therapist Matilda (Maya Rudolph), who calls herself a “free rage chicken.” Unwillingly, Red joins the other members, consisting of incredibly speedy Chuck (Josh Gad), the not too bright Bomb (Danny McBride) who does indeed explode when provoked, and the huge, “better not mess with me” Terence (Sean Penn). After class these three want to hang out, but Red wants no part of them.
When a large sailing ship arrives, everyone but Red welcomes them. He is understandably upset because it runs into and smashes his beachside house. Stepping off the ship is Leonard (Bill Hader), a large green pig with a small assistant—no, soon it turns out to be two smaller pigs. They bring presents of baskets of fruit and a large slingshot. All of the birds are enchanted by the smooth talking Leonard and join the pigs in a celebration—all but Red. His suspicion turns out to be right. The three pigs, joined by dozens that have hidden in the ship’s hold, manage to steal all of the birds’ eggs, read “children.” They sail away to their island where Leonard, who turns out to be their king, plans to throw a banquet at which the eggs will be the main course.
Red and his anger management pals climb the mountain where Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), a local legendary hero no one has seen for several generations, supposedly dwells. Turns out that he is overweight, very much out of shape—definitely an idol with feet of clay. (Along with the revelation that the Judge was not the towering magistrate the two little birds pretended to be, this disappointing hero reminded me of Dorothy’s discovery that the Wizard in the Emerald City was a disappointing fraud.)
Returning to the village, the other birds turn to Red for leadership. Very much surprised by this change in attitude of his fellow citizens, he asks why. They respond that it’s because he was the only one who realized the pigs were up to no good. Accepting the mantle of leadership, Red says, “We’re gonna get those eggs back! Come on, we’re birds! We’re descendants from dinosaurs! We’re not supposed to be nice!” One little bird roars like a T-Rex.
During this discussion Red says that in order to rescue their children (still eggs), they will have to become angry. How this leads to their voyage across the waters to Piggy Island and their siege of the pig’s city makes for fast-paced action. (Their siege techniques, involving use of that big slingshot, will be familiar to those who have played this silly but entertaining game.)
In Pixar’s great Inside Out, Anger is depicted as a fiery emotion that is in need of control. I was delighted and surprised that in this film anger also is shown as something that we sometimes need in order to propel us to action to right a wrong. That anger is often a proper response is well documented in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures wherein the prophets and Jesus become angry when facing injustice and lack of compassion.
This might be a silly, and, be warned, at times the humor is very anal, little film, but it gives parents and teachers a delightful teaching tool for little ones, who know all too well the negative aspects of anger, but maybe not its positive side. Most kids have been lectured so much about anger that to many people it is seen just in a negative way. Not always, this film says: sometimes we should get angry!
But don’t let this didactic approach spoil the fun of the film. There are some delightful sight gags, such as the following: the stage poster in the piggy ‘s fortress advertising Kevin Bacon in Hamlet, or in an earlier scene, a billboard advertising Calvin Swine underwear. And what a delightful choice in casting the diminutive actor Peter Dinklage as the Mighty Eagle!
This review with a set of discussion questions is in the June issue of VP.