Sequel heavy on wholesome message
‘For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind,’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson – though he reckoned without the Angry Birds making a virtue of that trade. Peace of any kind is in short supply in “The Angry Birds Movie 2”, another breathless, frenetic cartoon escapade derived from the once-ubiquitous video game franchise, and again its manic, catapulting comic energy is more appealing than those origins might suggest. Despite a complete replacement of the first film’s writing and directing teams – with acclaimed, offbeat TV animator Thurop Van Orman brashly taking the reins in his first feature assignment – this second loopy adventure for misfit cardinal Red and his feathered-but-flightless friends maintains the balance of scattergun jokes, candy-coated visuals and cheerfully bird-brained storytelling that raked in $350 million worldwide in 2016.
How close “The Angry Birds Movie 2” comes to matching that figure will depend on how firmly the first film’s characters – considerably fleshed (or feathered) out from rudimentary smartphone avatars – have captured the collective imagination of a young public now a micro-generation removed from the game’s pop-cultural peak. Where its predecessor contorted itself to work the game’s essential imagery and strategy into a shaggy narrative, the sequel persuasively cements the films as a franchise in their own right. We’re free, then, to drift into story worlds and digressions with nary a trace of the source material’s DNA, even as the plush, fluorescent finish of the animation (a gaudy-but-gorgeous alternative to Disney-Pixar refinement) keeps things true to the original game’s eye-scorching aesthetic.
That increased flexibility mostly works to the film’s benefit, with Van Orman and the writers investing in more elaborate, inspired comic setpieces without referential in-jokery. An all-star voice ensemble, meanwhile, has been considerably expanded and diversified from the first film’s male-dominated flock: Among the new additions, it’s Leslie Jones’ brassy, purple-plumed villainess, in particular, that gives the film wings. Other names make less of an impression amid the sheer, busy sugar-blast of activity here: Awkwafina, Nicki Minaj, Tiffany Haddish and JoJo Siwa are among those serving as brief, bright, oh-wait-whose-voice-is-that background distractions, though the film does notably mark an unexpected debut for a pair of Hollywood hatchlings, Faith and Sunday Kidman-Urban.
As for what it’s actually about, that’s as secondary a concern as it was first time round, even if the aforementioned antagonist – with her plan to take over the world, which in the compact Angry Birds realm now extends to three whole islands – gives proceedings slightly more shape than its predecessor’s frenzied, game-inspired war of attrition between fowl and swine.
Indeed, the lively, loose-knit script wittily alludes to that film’s scant story with a blunt one-line summary at the outset: “Hey Red, isn’t it funny how nobody liked you until you saved Bird Island and now everybody loves you?” Once a cranky social outcast, Sharpie-browed Red (Jason Sudeikis) now enters the sequel a revered local hero, no longer mad as he basks in public adoration and gleefully spearheads an ongoing prank battle against the birds’ sworn porcine enemies on Pig Island.
When oafish pig leader Leonard (Bill Hader) calls for a truce, Red skeptically assumes it’s a mere prelude to another attack, though it turns out bird and bacon must unite to fight a more dangerous outside enemy: deranged tropical eagle and genius physicist Zeta (Jones), who lives in arctic exile on her own ice-bound island, like some fabulous, daiquiri-chugging remix of Princess Elsa. (Any viewers asking why she’s been exiled, or by whom, are not really suited to this universe.) Very much bothered by the cold, Zeta has designs on both Bird and Pig Islands, announcing her intent to colonize by launching colossal glacier bombs in their general direction. (Zeta’s hideout, half Bond-villain lair and half out-of-season Club Med, is returning production designer Pete Oswald’s most inventive coup.) Refreshingly for a supervillain, Zeta’s plans for global domination aren’t especially power-driven: She simply wants more room for her own private pleasure resort. “I’m putting myself first, because I worked hard for it, and I deserve it,” she says – and Jones’ reading is deliciously salty enough that we just about concede the point.
Red and Leonard are less understanding, however. Cue a madcap plan to infiltrate Zeta’s island and destroy her frozen weapons of mass destruction, with questionable assistance from Red’s existing sidekicks Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride); the cowardly, misnamed Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), who has history with Zeta; and more usefully, smart-cookie scientist Silver (Rachel Bloom), whose input initially bruises our scarlet hero’s ego, before he learns the value of both teamwork and a woman’s perspective.
The second film turns out to be a little heavier on wholesome messaging than the first – which rather subversively argued for the merits of a hot temper – though any hugging and learning comes as an afterthought to its mile-a-minute attack of slapstick, sight gags and lovably appalling puns. (It should not surprise any fans of the first film to learn that Zeta is also the author of a bestseller titled “Crazy Rich Avians”.)
It’s on that front that Van Orman, Emmy-nominated creator of the quirky, cult-inspiring kids’ cartoon series “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack”, brings just the right level of dippy zeal to the project, committing to extended, farcical routines that, at their most immaculately choreographed and paced, channel the pure, physical hilarity of vintage Chaplin or Sellers. One such sequence, involving a rickety eagle costume, a urinal and an increasingly perplexed security guard, may just be funnier than any scene from a Hollywood studio comedy in the last year. That alone is a pretty surprising takeaway from a project that, on paper, has scarcely any reason to exist: Some way past the zenith of the Angry Birds craze, the fun has somehow outlasted the games. (RTRS)
By Guy Lodge