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When you think about it, those birds really have no reason to be so tetchy. In the time since the mobile game Angry Birds first slingshotted its way onto our mobile devices and into our lives in 2009, it has been downloaded more than 3 billion times, minimizing human interaction and extending the average length of bathroom visits on a worldwide scale. It’s hard to overestimate its gargantuan, far-reaching success. But the question that’s currently up in the air is whether that success can survive the flight from the (very) small screen to the big one.
We’ll find out when The Angry Birds Movie, an animated joint venture between Sony Pictures and the game’s Finnish developer, Rovio Entertainment, hits theaters on May 20 next year. The game’s appeal is based in part on its simplicity — deploy an arsenal of avian artillery to destroy the villainous pigs that stole their eggs — so naturally plenty of people are wondering what a movie version of their favorite time-suck would even look like. But hey, if Hollywood can make Battleship… “The question Rovio gets more than anything is ‘Why are these birds so angry?’” says producer John Cohen (Despicable Me). “This is the origin story for how that conflict came to exist between birds and little green piggies.”
Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is one of a community of beaked denizens on an all-bird island paradise, but what separates him from his chirpy chums is how easily his feathers get ruffled. “He’s a curmudgeon,” says Clay Kaytis, who’s directing the film with Fergal Reilly. “We knew we had to find an actor who could say these things and still be charming, and that was Jason.” Red is joined by a pair of birds of a feather with similar anger-management issues: the hyperactive speed freak Chuck (Josh Gad) and the intermittently explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). It’s the job of these three misfits to fight back when their nests are infiltrated by snouted interlopers and their porcine spokesman, Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader.
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Bringing these casual-gaming figures to life in a CGI feature required giving the characters a third dimension in more ways than one. “These are icons in a game that appear to be characters, but really they’re just icons,” says Reilly. “So it’s up to us to flesh them out.” Helping to do that is a deep bench of comedic actors lending their voices to the project, including Maya Rudolph, Hannibal Buress, Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale, and Peter Dinklage as the legendary Mighty Eagle.
The script, written by Jon Vitti of The Simpsons and the first two Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, tilts toward a broad audience; this won’t be a movie just for sardonic teenagers. When you’ve got a title with a massive global following that runs from toddlers to the geriatric, you don’t want to exclude anyone. “It’s an advantage that we have such a huge brand,” says Reilly. He and Kaytis have worked on some of the biggest animated films of recent years — Kaytis was an animator on Frozen and Reilly was a storyboard artist on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs — but they’re each making their directing debuts with Angry Birds. (No pressure.) “A lot of iconic movies come from branded entertainment,” Reilly says. “But you have to quickly forget about that when you’re working on the movie because you still have to, you know, make a movie.”
It remains to be seen whether this bird will soar like an eagle, or if it’ll end up more of a turkey. But one thing’s for certain: If it’s the former, you might want to buckle up for FarmVille: Origins.
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