Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Angry Birds and Angry Voters

by Matt McKenna

MaxresdefaultAngry Birds is one of those generic children’s films that incorporates already popular intellectual property to mitigate the risk of losing money. The logic is that kids might skip a boring film about madcap animated animals, but if these madcap animated animals are the same ones with whom the children already have an established connection through video games, toys, and school supplies, the terribleness of the film won’t impact revenue. It works too: Angry Birds, a movie based on a smartphone video game franchise, has already made $164 million at the box office worldwide. I don’t mean this as a knock on children’s taste in films–the same risk reduction strategy applies to grown-up films as well. I bring up the Angry Birds intellectual property only because the “angry” in Angry Birds reflects the “angry” in America’s current political zeitgeist. So while children aren’t allowed to vote in the upcoming 2016 election, Hollywood is still able to provide them with an alternative entertainment option that promotes anger as the most responsible reaction to current events.

Angry Birds’ protagonist is Red, a bird who isolates himself from his community by being a pugnacious jerk. While the other adult birds are nauseatingly nice, Red is sociopathic: in one of his first scenes, Red assaults a father and smashes the father’s egg to cause a premature birth of the bird within (the baby bird survives, thank goodness). Of course, Red’s nasty disposition is eventually validated when the island is invaded by deceitful pigs who claim to be friendly but wind up stealing the birds’ eggs. Because Red had previously warned his fellow birds that the visitors were up to no good, he is subsequently chosen to lead these once wimpy flock to battle against the duplicitous pigs. By the end, Red defeats the pigs, saves the stolen eggs, and the birds who used to look down on Red now sing songs about how angry and valiant he is.

If Angry Birds wasn't so boring, it's horrifying moral would be the the film’s primary attribute. Reinforcing the current “you're either with us or against us” political climate in America, Angry Birds’ moral hinges on the idea that kindness is for the weak, and aggression is the only way to avoid looking like a sap.

I realize Angry Birds is a kids' film so nuance isn't the main objective, but protagonists in kids’ films usually learn something about themselves by the end of the story. However, instead of having the film’s plot enlighten the main character, Angry Birds takes a different tack and uses its plot to reaffirm the main character’s initial feelings. Indeed, at the end of Angry Birds, Red hasn’t learned anything about himself–it is society that has been enlightened by Red.

I should address the obvious “red herring” about Red’s color. Though his color could easily be misinterpreted as representing Republicans in the “red state” sense, Democrats don't get off easy in this film either. Sure, Red was living outside of town and could be thought of as a rural bird who would likely vote Republican. But by the end of the film, Red moves back into the city, joining the throngs of other birds where he would most likely vote Democrat. Therefore, if the film is saying anything about Republicans and Democrats specifically, it's that the anger from one party is always mirrored by the anger in the other party. Despite his red feathers, Red doesn’t represent one particular political ideology, but rather he embodies the attitude all political ideologies posses: anger.

It may seem strange for a children’s film like Angry Birds to advocate rage as a problem solving tool, but it makes sense when considering the culture that spawned it. A CNN poll from last year showed that 69% of Americans are either “very angry” or “somewhat angry” about “the way things are going” in the United States. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising for our movies to condone the anger we already feel. Unfortunately for us in the United States, while Angry Birds has a happy ending in which the birds rally around Red’s point of view, there is no hope for such consensus in reality–it’s not as if Democrat voters will rally behind a Republican president or vice versa. Alas, maybe someday our attitudes towards elections will shift and we can look forward to a video game franchise called Reasonable Birds in which even-keeled birds solve their differences through thoughtful discussion.