Moviegoers and lovers of the Angry Birds app may wonder, what could The Angry Birds Movie be about? Techniques for anger management? Check! Validating anger as a legitimate and sometimes useful emotion? Check! Make audiences angry? Nope. Not even close. In fact, if a recent Q&A with cast members Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride and Bill Hader was any indication, the movie is going to make us laugh. A lot.
Executive producer David Maisel (former chairman of Marvel Studios) explained that great casting is one of his keys to success – and it’s not just individual talent, the group must love being together. That quality has certainly played out in The Avengers and now, it’s also front and center in The Angry Birds Movie.
The story follows Red (Sudeikis), a frustrated bird living on an island utopia populated only by happy birds. His knee-jerk reactions to the irritations of life lead him to court-ordered anger management classes where he meets mischievous Chuck (Gad) and explosion-prone Bomb (McBride). There, indeed, viewers see ways to overcome rage – yoga, breathing exercises, and “painting your pain.” When pigs invade the island and steal something precious, Red must teach his neighbors that, if channeled correctly, anger can be useful.
Angry Birds looks to do to ire what Inside Out did to sadness: legitimize a forbidden emotion. Sudeikis says the theme drew him to the project. “We’ve gotten better at acting like [anger] doesn’t exist, but it clearly still does,” he says, pointing out that it can be a healthy reaction. “Don’t go too far – don’t let it all the way in and don’t let it all the way out – but a little toot of anger every now and then is a nice thing.”
Maisel said he planned to retire when Marvel Studios sold to Disney in 2009. But, when he saw his 80-year old mother obsessively playing with a gaming app on her phone, he knew he wasn’t ready to quit just yet. Maisel says they set out to make an animated film all Angry Birds fan will enjoy, with silly jokes for the young ones (some of the slapstick comedy and body humor will put the little guys into a giggle fit) and more esoteric jokes for adults.
For the doubters who wonder if a satisfying movie can be made from a story-free app, the filmmakers have stacked the deck in their favor. In addition to Maisel, the screenplay comes from Jon Vitti of “The Simpsons,” “The Office,” “ and “The Larry Sanders Show;” co-directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilley have spent their careers animating films from Space Jam to Frozen, and producer John Cohen has a knack for developing kid-oriented franchises including Despicable Me and Ice Age. In assembling the behind the scenes talent for the Angry Birds movie, their philosophy mimicked the movie’s promotional hashtag: #GoPigOrGoHome.
The vocal cast also includes distinctive, comedic voices like Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, Keegan-Michael Key, Hannibal Buress, Tony Hale, Billy Eichner, YouTube stars Smosh and Kate McKinnon. The voice-iest voice of them all belongs to Blake Shelton, who portrays a cowboy bird (a cowbird?) who co-wrote and performs the song “Friends” in the film.
For a movie about temper, the four primary voice actors aren’t Hollywood’s leading rage-aholics – in fact, Sudeikis is known for his laid-back personality. Even he was surprised how easily he slipped into his role of a bird who can’t control his heated emotions, “We toyed with the idea of making a big or medium swing [in creating a character voice], and it just felt like in order to play the sarcasm, the frustration, the cynicism and the anger, we decided I should just do it in my own!”
Hader says the directors had a very distinct point of view for the characterization of bad pig Leonard: They suggested that he channel confidence man Harold Hill, from The Music Man, played by Robert Preston. “We did a version like that for a full session and then I came back for the second session and they were like, ‘uh, do you have something else?’ So, Leonard [became] the Hee-Haw Music Man: very jolly and excited,” says Hader, who then admits, “Basically, it’s my dad. I’m doing an impression of my father.”
The personality of Chuck, the fastest bird on the island, was also inspired by a real person. “I have a friend I grew up with who talks a mile a minute, we called him Motor Mouth,” says Gad. “I based the character on his mannerisms and that idea of never being able to shut down and the words coming out faster than he can compute them.”
Ultimately, the movie is about how to handle anger appropriately, and for adults, Sudeikis offers a solution: “A really late, long night of drunken karaoke!”
The Angry Birds Movie hits theaters May 20.