by Gene Turnbow

The Angry Birds Movie began production two years ago when Bird Mania was at its peak. Angry Birds games topped the mobile game charts. It made perfect sense at the time to make the obvious growth move, an animated feature based on the popular feathered poster children for anger management. Fast forward to today, and the landscape for Rovio is dramatically different. The small game company that made its reputation based on this single franchise is in serious trouble, laying off 260 people and shedding those positions as the Angry Birds franchise slides into irrelevancy. With a full third of its workforce gone, Rovio is now betting the deed to the nest on how well the movie does.

Sadly, looking at this trailer, it looks like they’re already in trouble. For lack of anything else to make the movie about, they ended up with the question, “why are these birds so angry?”

Yep. Nothing else in the tank. Have a look.

Whenever you scale up a concept from a computer game and try to make a movie out of it, you run into a few basic problems, and to be fair to Rovio, this happens to every franchise where this is attempted:

  • The characters from the game were never intended to carry a feature length film, only to fight once in a while in certain levels or scenes in the game. They can’t carry a narrative unless they’re made a lot deeper. The risk here is that they have to be given traits they didn’t have in the game. In this case, one of the big changes is that the birds all talk. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t talk, but every change like this takes them incrementally further from the sweet spot that made them appealing as game characters in the first place.
  • The game has little or no plot, apart from the pigs stealing eggs, and the birds going to rescue them, so in The Angry Birds Movie we’re treated to more of the same. Therein lies the problem. We’ve all played the game at least once, and we got that part down pretty well. No surprises are to be had there, unless they come from story features or character development that has absolutely no grounding in the game itself. The story line in the game, therefore, has the same distancing problem that the characters do. By extension, the public has no sense of back story for the Angry Birds. You fling these things with a fingertip at little block houses hoping to nail a few pigs in the process, and that’s all the deeper this gets.  There isn’t enough here with which to build a meaningful back story. Adam Sandler’s Pixels, anyone? As an aside, Peter Dinklage is in the cast for The Angry Birds Movie, making this the second video game movie in a row for the award winning actor. However, an actor is only as good as the script he’s given. I don’t think he can save this any more than he could save Pixels.
  • The movie still has to be familiar enough to the casual gamers to attract box office dollars – but there’s that pesky adjective: “casual”. The funny little birds with anger management issues are recognizable and appealing for a few minutes, but that’s it. Unlike franchises like Batman, or Star Wars, there is no big overarching story line that the public knows anything about, as the establishment of one was never part of Rovio’s  mythos for their creations.
  • If you have no memorable individual characters and no plot line in your game deeper than boom-boom-boom, coming up with meaningful scenes is going to be work. In this trailer, there is no sign that they’ve accomplished this. A few funny bits do not a story make, and there’s no hint that they have one.

A computer game movie is so hamstrung with these built-in problems that, as tempting as it might be to think otherwise, few games based on movies make their money back. This isn’t rocket surgery here, folks, this is just common knowledge. All it would take would be for Angry Birds to have to go up against Captain America: Civil War or X-Men: Apocalypse in May of 2016 and Rovio can pretty much kiss its birdseed goodbye.

Oh, wait.

When they launched this project, due out May of 2016, Rovio probably thought that they’d be riding the gravy train all the way to the bank when it came out, fueled by the popularity of the Angry Birds. Now, only the movie itself may have enough forward momentum to save them.

I want to be clear here. I really wanted to be able to be a cheerleader for this film. A lot of people at Sony Pictures have worked very hard putting this together and fed their families making it.  With this film, though, a whole lot of people with a whole lot of wishful thinking in their corner listened to other people they really shouldn’t have been listening to when the deal for this production was signed and green-lit. If I can see this as a casual observer, they should have been able to see it too, and I’m surprised at them, and a bit embarrassed for them.

The Angry Birds Movie is going to make a dramatic arc, hit the side of a building, make a couple of pigs explode, and that’s going to be it. You heard it here first.