Clever not snarky, sweet not syrupy: Angry Birds can't fly, but sequel stays aloft

It's hard to have huge expectations for a movie called The Angry Birds Movie 2. After all, it's not even a movie based on a smartphone game.

It's hard to have huge expectations for a movie called The Angry Birds Movie 2. After all, it's not even a movie based on a smartphone game. It's a SEQUEL to a movie based on a smartphone game.

But now that we've established that nobody's expecting Ingmar Bergman here, let's offer up some praise for this sequel-to-a-movie-based-on-a-smartphone-game, for finding a way to actually improve on the 2016 original in a way that's clever but not snarky, sweet but not syrupy.

Because regardless of its perhaps pedestrian origins (these non-flying birds ARE pedestrians, actually) the movie, directed by Thurop Van Orman, reminds us that finding a formula to appeal to both kids and parents for 90-odd minutes isn't rocket science. All you need is some appealing characters, some famous voices, a message with heart, and, crucially, some good jokes.

Oh, and potty references. Unfortunately, kids still really like those.

If you haven't seen the last film, and haven't even played the game (in which case, kudos for all the time you've saved), let's recap. Our action takes place on two islands — Bird Island, home to the titular angry birds, and Piggy Island, home to the green pigs, who in the last movie stole — and came frighteningly close to eating — Bird Island's precious eggs. In other words, its future offspring. But let's not dwell on that.

Because we have more immediate concerns. As we begin the sequel, Red (Jason Sudeikis), he of the touchy temper and large eyebrows who became an unlikely hero in the last film, is basking in newfound popularity. He spends his days with sidekick Chuck (Josh Gad), inventing elaborate pranks to play on the pigs, who are led by Leonard (Bill Hader.)

The birds slingshot a whole bunch of hot sauce over to Piggy Island. The pigs send over some crabs. This could go on forever, except one day, the pigs ask for a truce.

Red and Chuck are skeptical, but it turns out there's something threatening all of them, and they need to join forces. Gigantic ice balls are falling from the sky, targeting birds and pigs alike. "Oh, cwap!" exclaims one of the adorable baby hatchlings.

Who's sending these ice bombs? It's Zeta, over on Eagle Island, a new and formidable villain (voiced by a hilarious Leslie Jones, a welcome newcomer to the franchise.) Like in a James Bond film, her plans involve ultimate global destruction — at least in the vicinity of Pigcific Ocean.

So the former enemies become "frenemies." But they need a crack team to thwart Zeta. They especially need an ace engineer, which they find in Chuck's whipsmart little sister, Silver (Rachel Bloom), a star student at Avian Academy.

But can Red, whose ego remains highly sensitive, become a team player? Even more difficult, can he cede authority to ... a girl?

And what's with Zeta, who's plotting to seize the other islands to create her own paradise? Might her anger have anything to do with her history with, say, Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the only bird who physically can fly, but remains deeply challenged in the bravery department?

Meanwhile, there's the sweetest little subplot, involving the adorable hatchlings, who get into serious trouble while playing around with their younger siblings — who are still eggs.

So there's the story in an eggshell. What propels it forward are the often genuinely entertaining jokes. These take the form of both wordplay — "Flockbuster Video!" ''Crazy Rich Avians!" ''Plan X? I thought you said Spandex!" — and visual gags. Try not to laugh watching Red lying on the floor inhaling popcorn, pouring melted butter into his mouth with one hand, shaking salt into it with another. Or the silly break-dance contest that comes at a crucial time in the mission.

OK, it's not Bergman. But it's ... Birdman? In any case, add a few kid-friendly potty jokes into this mix, and the whole family should stay happily aloft.

Angry Birds Movie 2, a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America "for rude humour and action." Running time: 96 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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