Why do birds suddenly appear every time summer’s here? One reason must surely be the lucrative track record of the first Angry Birds movie, which laid a $352 million golden egg at the box office in 2016. Now Sony Pictures Animation and the Finnish studio behind the original phone-based computer game, Rovio, are feathering their nest again with this lively sequel, which brings new talent to the franchise in both cast and crew. Not least first-time director Mark “Thurop” Van Orman, best known as creator-star of the Emmy-winning Cartoon Network hit show The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
Propulsively paced, garishly colored and full of haphazard comic energy, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is a giant splashy bid for the big school summer holiday market. It may lack the refined wit and revered pedigree of blue-chip animation franchises such as Toy Story, but it still ticks plenty of lightweight fun boxes for its prime target audience of younger children, with just enough adult humor to keep parents from yawning, too. Sony begins global rollout in the U.K. and Ireland this coming Friday, Aug. 2, with the U.S. launch to follow Aug. 14.
The plot of the first Angry Birds movie at least paid lip service to the original game, with its ballistic battles between the multicolored avian residents of Bird Island, led by short-fuse anti-hero Red (Jason Sudeikis), and their green-hued porcine enemies on Pig Island, led by boorish Lester (Bill Hader). The sequel moves fruitfully away from this source material by expanding the story’s narrative bandwidth and character count, drawing on a broad list of starry vocal talents including Peter Dinklage, Maya Rudolph, Danny McBride, Nicki Minaj and Awkwafina. In a cute piece of Hollywood in-joke casting, the children of Nicole Kidman, Viola Davis and Gal Gadot also have minor speaking roles as the cute hatchling chicks.
Van Orman and his writers also add a third island to the mix and a new supervillain in the form of Zeta, the Cruella de Vil of the eagle world, a purple-plumed uber-diva voiced with winning sass by Leslie Jones. The action-heavy plot hinges on Zeta’s deadly plan to flee from her deep-frozen exile on wintry Eagle Island and conquer both Bird Island and Pig Island, transforming them into her private sunshine playgrounds.
Ramping up her attacks, Zeta begins bombarding her coveted target islands with giant ice cannonballs fired from a volcano-powered, mountain-size barrel. This shared threat forces a truce between birds and pigs, with Red and Leonard teaming up to lead an undercover mission to Eagle Island in a bid to thwart Zeta’s scheme. This detour into James Bond territory, complete with superb steampunk production design, nudges the Angry Birds cinematic universe closer to established animated franchises like Despicable Me or The Incredibles.
There are two main target demographics for this kind of movie, of course: kids and parents. For younger viewers, The Angry Birds Movie 2 has plenty of gaudy colors, zippy pace and goofy slapstick, plus reliably lowbrow gags about toilets and snot. Not to mention the obligatory feminism-lite message that girls are just as smart as boys, plus some mildly unsettling emotional jeopardy followed by a swift, reassuring renewal of parental authority Judging by the mixed audience reaction at the child-packed London press screening, roughly half the jokes hit their target, an adequate but unremarkable strike rate.
Adult viewers will be sporadically amused by knowingly nostalgic references to Blockbuster video stores, street-corner pay phones, Rocky, The Great Escape and more, peppered with groaningly lame wordplay gags (Resting Bird Face? Crazy Rich Avians? Hmmm OK) and a mixtape soundtrack of retro musical throwbacks. The extended sequence featuring a Trojan Horse-style Eagle costume is a great knockabout comic set piece for all ages, while a brief interlude in which the hatchlings accidentally launch themselves into outer space is a delightful detour, complete with David Bowie soundtrack.
In technical terms, The Angry Birds Movie 2 has a sheeny and lustrous look, if a little low on subtlety. The color palette is neon-bright bordering on garish, the script often more functional than witty. None of which will affect its box office prospects at all, since this is a film targeted more at Teletubbies fans than Tarkovsky fans. It may not be the most graceful creature in the skies, but it does have strikingly vivid plumage.
Production companies: Sony Pictures Animation, Rovio Entertainment
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Rachel Bloom, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Eugenio Derbez, Awkwafina, Sterling K. Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Nicki Minaj, JoJo Siwa, Zach Woods, Dove Cameron, Brooklynn Prince, Beck Bennett, Faith Kidman-Urban, Sunday Kidman-Urban
Director: Thurop Van Orman
Co-director: John Rice
Screenwriters: Peter Ackerman, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart
Cinematographers: Simon Dunsdon
Producer: John Cohen
Editors: Kent Beyda, Ally Garrett
Music: Heitor Pereira