Rage, Religion, and The Angry Birds Movie

The Angry Birds Movie is a 2016 animated film by Sony and Rovio themselves that has no right looking or being as good as it is. If you’re like me, and most of the general human populace, you don’t go into movies like Angry Birds and expect…anything. But that being said, I’ve watched this movie probably over 15 times and that number will DEFINITELY go up. It has been in my life from the time I was 16 to now, and as I’ve grown, I’ve come to see some things in this movie that strike a chord with me. In spite of itself, it presents some interesting commentary on our own society. It’s an absurdist comedy at its core, but nothing is black and white.

Angry Birds lead Red (a rather oval-shaped red bird with pinkish coloring on his chest/stomach, large rectangular black eyebrows, a yellow beak, fiery brown eyes, and orange feet) eating a sandwich under a tree. He's sitting on top of bright green grass, his wicker lunchbox in front of him. It's a bright and sunny day; a couple other birds can be seen sitting together in the background.
Where are these birds getting cheese from? Why are there cows on Bird Island? Who is growing wheat? What power do the Bird Island farmers have?

Upon its initial release, The Angry Birds Movie garnered some attention from white supremacists who viewed it as in tune with their anti-immigration views. Others, in tow, began to see it as carrying that same message and looked down on it. But I feel that the film expresses the exact opposite belief.

When the pigs arrive on Bird Island, Red (the lead character) is immediately distrusting of them, not because he’s pig-racist, but because they destroyed his house and showed no remorse. His hatred of the pigs starts as a personal grudge, not baseless ignorance. His resentment develops as the uninvited guests gradually implement themselves into the birds’ home, causing pollution and other sorts of damage—not at all unlike colonialism. This progresses Red’s hatred beyond something personal and into something based on observations of the pigs’ general behavior. He is a native against oppressive settlers, not someone who hates newcomers based on appearance or some kind of superiority complex.

So, we come to understand that Red not only has every right to dislike the pigs, but a viable basis for his belief that their presence on the island is objectively bad. His biggest obstacle, though, is his own kind.

The birds at large are shown to be an extremely peaceful group, even going so far as to classify an outburst as a criminal offense. Red is an outlier, as he is seldom able to keep his temper in check, and is consistently shamed for his behavior, even when it is understandable or even reasonable. Anger is immediately presented to us, from the birds’ point of view, as an inherently bad thing, something to be eliminated. So, when Red attempts to point out the issues with the pigs’ presence, he is ignored.

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed spaces of all kinds, political or otherwise, pushing for the repression of rage. As someone who has grown up in the age of YouTube personalities, many of whom center their content around politics, philosophy, or even just fandom “drama”, I’ve borne witness to many different expressions of anti-rage. If someone is visibly upset about something, is yelling, or otherwise being emotional, they’re often reacted to in a negative way. If you are not calm and “civil” when expressing your grievances, you are deemed unworthy of attention (especially if you’re a woman and/or non-white). I think this is a terrible way to treat anger, and this is why I love Angry Birds’ final act.

Red, revealed to have been right all along, is appointed leader of the flock. With this newfound influence, he empowers his “people” by stating that they should be angry and teaches them how to use that to their advantage, which leads to their ultimate victory. Rage is ultimately not deemed inherently bad or uncivil, but as a tool for achievement of justice, and as being justified in and of itself as an emotion.

Anger is a powerful emotion, and when aimed at the right places, it can fuel significant change. This is why I think the repression of rage in our world so unfortunate. We are told to dial it back and tone it down, even if we’re being hurt and peaceful options have done nothing to change that. Rage is silenced and deemed uncivil, because angry people are a real threat who have the power to achieve real change, and get what they know they deserve.

Terence (a very large bird, almost identical to Red but with darker coloring) preparing to launch Chuck (a small, vaguely triangle shaped yellow bird with long black tail and head feathers, a long orange beak and reddish brows) from a slingshot. Chuck is pointing a finger at him as though giving instructions. Terence looks angry.

People who live under an idea of peace being the end-all-be-all solution to just about any problem are often religious, and this concept is not lost on Angry Birds. The character of Mighty Eagle is depicted as a type of deity, and the higher-ups of Bird Island point to him as a guardian, the reason nothing could ever truly be awful.

This reminds me a lot of Western Christians—at least a noisy subgroup of them. Growing up in the southern United States and with my family being friends with/related to a lot of different types of Christians, I’ve been witness to various ways of living under that belief system. The one that has always struck me the most is the subset that places their God above all else, so much so that He is their biggest priority, and their only real reaction to tragedy is prayer and a call for unity—without any idea of how to achieve such a thing beyond their religion. There seems to be this belief that placing all of one’s faith in a deity absolves them of any need to take action against a wrongdoing themselves. This sort of belief, albeit a much more watered down version, is expressed by those in power on Bird Island.

Red’s stance on Mighty Eagle is best expressed in that his initial plan to combat the pigs’ havoc is to seek out the deity, despite seeming indifferent to him throughout the film. He’s been raised to believe in Mighty Eagle as option one, the obvious choice to turn to when something is wrong, even though it is explicitly stated that he has not been seen in many years, and may not even exist. His and his friends’ idea of immediate action is to seek out a legend to whisk their problems away.

Mighty Eagle does turn out to be real; however, he also turns out to not be the answer. When Red and his friends find the giant bird, they come to find he is nowhere near the all powerful deity they learned about in school. He is washed up, lazy, and expresses no interest in assisting the birds in their fight against the pigs. Perhaps, then, Mighty Eagle truly was just a concept, a desperate idea to cling to when reality becomes too frightening.

Red, frustrated and too late to stop the pigs’ theft of the birds’ eggs, says to the Eagle, “I believed nothing really bad could ever happen, because you were here,” which expresses the type of religious belief I discussed; placing all of one’s faith in a godlike figure. “Now, I see the fate of the world hangs on idiots like me. And that, sir…is sort of terrifying.”

He dashes back to town, too late to keep the eggs on the island, but early enough to gather his fellow birds and take immediate action. Mighty Eagle is completely rejected, and not seen again until roughly the last 20 minutes of the film. All power is placed in Red and the birds, they use it to forcefully take back what is theirs from a hostile enemy, and achieve their just deserts.

Red standing outside his house (barely visible as it's off to the side) staring down at a tiny, round blue bird who is playing with a soccer ball. Red's hands are on his hips and he looks smug, as he is about to punt the small fella into the sea.

As Angry Birds is developing into a franchise, these themes I detected are unfortunately more or less abandoned. The second film opts for a union of pigs and birds, not ignoring the past terrorism, but still ultimately nixing its importance. Even so, the first film on its own still stands out to me as a beacon of anger acceptance and empowerment.

I can sense the world around me becoming less and less tolerant of calls for immediate peaceful resolution. Peace cannot be easily achieved for an oppressed party if the oppressors are the ones repeatedly inciting violence; especially if said oppressors benefit from the oppressed remaining as such. The pigs wanted the birds’ eggs, could not get them via a peaceful solution, thus they stole. And therefore, the only option for the birds’ rebuttal was, as the pigs’ king put it, “an unprovoked act of aggression”; a statement we should now see as miles away from the truth.

No, I’m not suggesting that violence is the answer (though I will almost always take the opportunity to joke that it is). What I’m saying is that anger and expressions of it are, in many cases, understandable, and shouldn’t be seen as a lesser response to wrongdoing. People screaming and yelling are emotional, yes, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think before judging someone based on their anger, we should first ask ourselves why they are angry. Maybe it’s for a good reason, and maybe we should be angry, too.

Written by Emma Gilbert

Emma Gilbert is a 22-year-old from North Carolina who has had a special interest in horror films since she was 14. She's been writing since she was 10 years old, encouraged by her family and friends all the way. Here, she hopes to entertain and enthrall you with trainwreck analyses and lame humor!

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