What director Thurop Van Orman has in store for 'Angry Birds 2'
The film director tells us how he has been able to move the characters into a different direction
When it was announced in 2012 that a movie was being developed about the popular mobile game Angry Birds, there was a fair amount of scoffing in the media. How on Earth were studio backers Sony going to make a film out of a simple game in which you use a slingshot to ping the fluffy (but clearly angry) Birds towards their enemies, the Pigs? Then the film came out, grossing more than $352 million (Dh1.39 billion), and everyone ate some humble pie.
Still, after draining the game of its flimsy premise, the film’s sequel, The Angry Birds Movie 2, has been forced to think outside the box (or should that be birdcage?). “A lot of people in the audience probably thought this would be another film with Birds and Pigs battling each other, and we wanted to do something new and different,” says the film’s producer, John Cohen.
He went to Rovio Entertainment, the company behind the game, and proposed a new idea: frenemies. Once again we are introduced to the feathery Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) and his green-skinned porcine rival Leonard (Bill Hader). But now the Birds and Pigs are forced to team up when a new villain, not seen in the original game, comes to town. “The Pigs and Birds have no common ground and yet they have to find some way to function, not unlike when the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers came together for the first time,” says Cohen. “They had trust issues and there was a lot of friction.”
Any reference to Marvel’s movies is likely to sit well in any studio boardroom, given that Avengers: Endgame has become the highest-grossing movie of all time, taking $2.79bn at the box office. While Marvel’s superheroes had to fight the all-conquering Thanos, so the Birds and Pigs’ new enemy is the similarly purple-coloured bird of prey Zeta, who swoops down from the chilly Eagle Island, bombing them with glacier cannonballs. This feathered predator even has her own theme tune: Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby.
Voiced by Leslie Jones (who featured in the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot), Zeta is a tropical eagle with plans of colonising both Pig Island and Bird Island due to her own habitat’s inclement weather. “They often say in the development of Marvel movies that the heroes have to have flaws but the villains have to have virtues,” says Cohen, warming to his comic theme. “She’s a character that I think the audience is going to find themselves, unexpectedly, relating to and connecting with.”
Among the other changes made to freshen things up, director Thurop Van Orman took over from Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, who directed the original movie. Nominated for Emmys for his work on cartoon series Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, Van Orman was looking for a new challenge after working in TV for so long. “I love the TV world, I love how fast it moves, I love how quickly you come up with stories,” he says. “But I think for the past 20 years I’ve wanted to tell a bigger story.”
A former storyboard artist on shows such as The Powerpuff Girls and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Van Orman also had a distinct advantage when it came to directing an Angry Birds movie because he started his career in video games. In other words, he understood what made the Angry Birds game tick. “The golden standard for a video game is it that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master,” he says. “Angry Birds does that so well. You can learn within a minute how to play the game, but you never master it.”
Despite his enthusiasm for games, Van Orman and his animation team (many of them coming over from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse) were determined to take the sequel in a different direction. “They were a little more married to the video game [for the first film] because they had to make sense of them coming from the same world,” he says. “But with this one, we’ve had so much freedom to move into our own territory, really flesh these characters out and not be so tied down to game play.”
Among the impressive array of voice actors are Crazy Rich Asians star Awkwafina, as Leonard’s assistant Courtney; singer Nicki Minaj as songstress bird Pinky and Girls Trip star Tiffany Haddish, who plays Debbie, Zeta’s doting yet clumsy assistant. “We’ve got a lot of characters that steal the show,” admits Van Orman. “It’s amazing how many characters we have that the scene becomes about them, without losing track of the story … so many characters that are so funny in and of themselves.”
There is even a Hollywood in-joke, with the children of actors Nicole Kidman, Viola Davis and Gal Gadot all taking minor speaking roles as cute hatchling chicks. Perhaps the most significant casting, at least for fans of the game, is Rachel Bloom, who voices the bird Silver, a character from the 2015 sequel to the Angry Birds game, The Angry Birds 2. “She thinks super fast, so she can solve complex equations in about the time it would take me to even realise I don’t know the answer,” says Cohen.
Unsurprisingly, Rovio is developing a game based on the new movie. “They have got some really, really cool things planned with the new movie characters,” says Cohen.
The software developer conjured a mash-up with Angry Birds and the toy franchise Transformers already, so it’ll be intriguing to see what comes from this latest Hollywood venture. “We can influence each other,” says Van Orman. “And there’s a nice cross-pollination there.”
The eagle, as they say, has landed.
The Angry Birds Movie 2 is in cinemas across the UAE
Updated: August 9, 2019 03:20 AM