Monday, May 23, 2016

Movie Monday: The Angry Birds Movie

Last weekend's most popular movie was The Angry Birds Movie, which in its first domestic weekend grossed $39 million.   Add the proceeds from a two-week rolling international release, and total sales are already $151 million.

Rovio, the Finnish company that created the video game for which the movie is named, spent $173 million to make and market the film.  Sony, the distributor, added its own marketing effort plus cross-promotions with at least 100 companies -- Ziploc Angry Birds snack bags, anyone?

(This year has been challenging for Sony.  Two early releases, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Brothers Grimsby, did not do well.  Money Monster, the George Clooney/Julia Roberts star vehicle,  made only $3 million more in two weeks than the AB thing did in its first three days.  Meanwhile, there are concerns about the coming chick-led remake of Ghostbusters.)

Angry Birds History

This mobile app game of birds catapulting into a nest of pigs that had stolen the birds' eggs was a surprise hit in 2009.  Over time, six new AB game titles (two with Star Wars themes) were released in versions for every tech product that had a screen.  By sometime last year, 3.3 billion Angry Birds apps had been downloaded, an impressive number in a world with only 7.4 billion inhabitants. There were also Angry Birds television cartoons and theme park attractions.

(A confession here:  I downloaded Angry Birds some years ago, played the game for a couple weeks and then forgot about it.  I have a limited attention span.)

Unfortunately for Rovio, the game's appeal had waned by 2014 or so.  Rovio laid off hundreds of workers, and prospects were dim.   Company founders hit on the idea of a movie that would capitalize on AB's worldwide name recognition and revive its appeal.

This approach is not without risk, according to an expert quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

          “What they're trying to do is make this a perennial pop culture property," said Robert
          Marich, a movie industry analyst and author of "Marketing to Moviegoers." “If this
          fails, 'Angry Birds' could wind up on the trash heap of properties like Beanie Babies
          and Cabbage Patch dolls.”

When a novelty like a video game or a kitchen utensil comes on the market, business people say there is a question to be answered: Is this a product, or is it a company?

Angry Birds sustained Rovio pretty well for five years.  We'll see whether these avian characters have legs, or perhaps wings.

Angry Birds the Movie

I saw this movie in a theater filled with parents and small children.

Its first act is set on Bird Island, home to attractive, friendly nonflying birds of every shape and color.  The lead character, the aptly named Red, is teased for his big black eyebrows.  Red is also a careless-to-obnoxious jerk whose japes land him in an anger management class led by a free-rage chicken.  There are many, many more puns:  Hasn't that couple with all those chicks ever heard of bird control?  A yoga class includes the downward duck pose.

When a boatload of sinister green pigs bearing gifts arrives on Bird Island, ham jokes ensue.   As we know from the video game, the pigs are after the birds' eggs.  The inevitable conflict allows Red to redeem himself by leading the birds' opposition.

Along the way there are twerking birds and, of course, twerking pigs.  A long, long scene of a big bird pissing into the Lake of Wisdom (Whiz -- get it?) had boys in the audience laughing hysterically.

There are redemptive themes inserted lightly in the AB plot: Not every bird has to be just like every other bird; colonization is bad, or maybe immigration is bad -- hard to tell; some mythical leaders are really just pompous pretenders, and unhatched baby birds in eggs are birds too (hmm).

The effect is a jam session of jokes rolling along at a breathless pace, a mashup of a kid's story with a lot of cynicism thrown in for the adults.   It ends with teasers that suggest a follow-on movie may be in the offing.

Disney and Pixar traditionally have turned out thoughtful, sincere cartoon movies for children. In recent years, other studios have released edgier cartoon films that are stuffed with pop culture references and irony that may be lost on smaller children or may, over time, cause them to become jaded.  I hope I'm wrong about that.

From the Atlantic magazine:  "Yes, it's a cash grab built on the flimsy artifice of a silly video game that should have been wiped from screens years ago.  The Angry Birds Movie is really not bad. It is actually very actively okay. The film has taken its bird-brained brand—nouns and verbs and an adjective, unsullied by sentences—and used it to construct characters and plots that are certainly serviceable, and possibly even inspired."

From the New York Times:  "A DreamWorks-inflected, pop-culture “savvy,” far-side-of-smarm (not too) smart-aleckness, replete with bodily function jokes. The kids of today deserve better. So do I, come to think of it."

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