So, today I’m going to explain why the new Angry Birds movie is like The Walking Dead series.
Why? Because its fun to try making up legitimate arguments for weird positions, even ones you disagree with (Sometimes you make even better arguments for positions you don’t believe in, because you have to logically think through your ideas rather than ramble off pure instinct, assuming anyone sane would have the same perspective as you).
But that isn’t the case here. I actually think there’s a legitimate link between the Angry Birds movie and our society’s current zombie fixation. And I’d like to talk about it.
Yesterday, my husband and I took our kids to see Angry Birds. We picked Angry Birds because there aren’t many kid movies playing around town. We weren’t sure if a two-year-old was up for The Jungle Book yet and we’d already seen Kung Fu Panda 3.
Mostly, we were just hoping to shove enough popcorn and M&M’s in our two-year-old’s face to keep her from freaking out and forcing us to leave. We thought giant cartoon birds could maybe help.
They did. The kids were pretty good and the movie was entertaining. It had funny moments and a good cast. It wasn’t spectacular, not exactly gripping, but better than you’d expect a movie based off an iPad app to be.
I don’t want to write a movie review, though. I’d rather analyze its social relevance, because that’s what I found myself doing in the theater. I don’t know if that’s because it’s what ex-liberal arts majors like to do (having spent our college years writing twenty page papers about the Nietzschean implications of The Simpsons) or if it’s just how grown-ass minds entertain themselves when fed an exclusive diet of primary-colored kid fare.
Either way, I’m starting to believe this surreal universe of chirpy animation is altering my consciousness enough to give me incredible insights. Like why it’s no coincidence that the Angry Birds movie hit at the same time zombie shows are wildly popular.
Let me summarize the parts of the movie that make my argument relevant…
To transform the Angry Birds app into an interesting movie, they needed to find the birds’ motivation. WHY are the birds so angry? Why should we CARE?
You’ve got a Red Bird with angry eyebrows, voiced by Jason Sudekeis. Because of his angry eyebrows, he’s been made fun of by all of the other birds. He’s been isolated and rejected, pushing him further and further from mainstream bird society. He lives in a house on the beach outside of the main bird city.
Angry Red Bird blows up at a customer so hard he’s forced to take anger management classes. These are taught by the kind of yoga- and mediation- loving type of crunchy granola bird you would expect to teach anger management classes, which Red Bird finds irritating as heck.
One day, a bunch of green pigs show up on Bird Island. They are charismatic and helpful, bringing a bunch of new technology (like trampolines and slingshots) to the birds.
All of the birds love the Green Pigs except Angry Red Bird. He is suspicious of their motives. Where do they come from? What do they want? Why are there so many pigs and what’s REALLY going on?
Angry Red Bird keeps cynically questioning the Green Pigs until he’s finally 86’ed from a party they threw for the birds. He figures out, during his exile, that the pigs want to steal all the birds’ eggs and eat them.
Once he convinces his fellow birds, Red concocts a heroic plan to defeat the Green Pigs, who want to EAT THE BIRDS’ CHILDREN. Once Red and his buddies finally steal back the eggs, he becomes the town’s savior. They rebuild his once-isolated house in the city’s center and all the little hatched bird babies arrive to sing about how he saved him in a moving, kid-voiced song. Red’s new buddies move in with him, he has friends, he is a hero, and… credits.
SO… the ultimate moral of the story is that Red Bird was RIGHT to be cynical and angry, to be wildly suspicious of seemingly-friendly outsiders.
This flies in the face of what our society preaches. We don’t like sarcasm. We don’t like introverts. We consider mistrustful types to be psychologically damaged… why are they so suspicious? Are they dangerous? Why do they have so little faith in their fellow man?
These are the types we believe need therapy to figure out what messed them up enough to carry around so much anger and suspicion.
Yet, Red Bird was right all along. His rampant cynicism and suspicion of outsiders ultimately keep all the children from being eaten.
And this is a KIDS’ movie!
So… zombies. Stick with me here.
The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead indoctrinates its viewers into an entirely new value system when it comes to evaluating new situations and new people. The world is different after a zombie apocalypse: viewers have to picture a world where eventually OTHER PEOPLE become the biggest threat.
Everything we understand about human civility and fair behavior is thrown out the window. For example, in the past season of Fear the Walking Dead, a troubled pregnant woman wants to board the boat carrying all the main characters.
Normal people in a normal society would let her board without question. But zombie fans know that any and all strangers can leave you vulnerable. Anyone letting the pregnant woman board is immediately considered “still unprepared for the world of the zombie apocalypse.”
Because anyone who retains our society’s current standard of moral decency in the wake of the zombie invasion is a threat to the larger group, someone who will endanger everyone by naively allowing villains access.
Like Dale of The Walking Dead. He’s a decent man who is nonetheless a naive idiot by zombie fan standards. Even though he could be considered the most morally consistent, fair-minded character by the practices we typically preach, zombie fans know it’s just a matter of time before he’s gonna get eaten.
It’s the same with Red Bird. He’s reviled for his anger and cynicism. He’s rejected for his antisocial suspicions. Yet, he was right all along. His fellow birds’ misplaced trust nearly allowed all their children to be boiled and eaten.
Like Red Bird, how do you think a good survivor of the zombie apocalypse would fare in modern-day therapy? To admit to suspecting everyone of potentially atrocious behavior?
The Walking Dead shows may be something only adults watch after the kids go to bed, but their message is not completely unlike that of the bird cartoon: they both question our tendency to see suspicion and anger itself as a sign of abnormal pathology… to ignore thousands of years of evolving to constant threat, a species-wide race for survival, by assuming anyone not facing their daily existence with irrational optimism is psychologically whacked.
I think these stories represent a backlash against the current strain of irrational optimism, the Pollyanna brainwashing that makes us suspect anyone direct. The kind of overwhelming political correctness that is suffocating enough to make a Trump presidency possible.
And I say that as an extreme liberal (who does NOT want Trump in office, by the way, but can’t help wondering how we got here).
I think this Angry Birds movie, as well as our fascination with the post-Apocalyptic landscape, represents our backlash against the wholesale rejection of anger. Of suspicion. Cynicism. Fighting back.
In a zombie apocalypse, does human nature change? Or are we just forced to confront its realities in a different equation?
And when the same people who are considered pathologically damaged, under different circumstances, become the well-equipped survivors… what does it mean? Especially when this bizarre landscape represents what human reality has been for most of our existence all along?
I have no idea, but it’s an interesting question.
This is what happens to you, by the way, when you watch too many G-rated films.