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Why is Angry Birds 2 so relentlessly popular on Netflix?

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The CG-animated video game adaptation might be a perfect storm of okay-ness

the green pigs and red bird from angry birds 2 Image: Sony Pictures

Last summer, it seemed pretty clear that The Angry Birds Movie 2 was looking a gift horse in the mouth. The first Angry Birds movie, whether by dint of its videogame brand name, a plum release date, or the bizarre whims of children everywhere, did well at the worldwide box office, grossing more than $350 million, and crossing the $100 million mark in North America. That seemed like a win for a poorly reviewed cash-in; technically, it was one of the biggest-grossing video game adaptations ever. Given that surprising success, Sony seemed like it might be pushing its luck by commissioning a sequel. Sure enough, the follow-up saw a $200 million dip in worldwide box office. Regardless of Angry Birds 2’s relatively economical production cost, the downward trajectory felt like a referendum on the previous film.

In the past, movies that underperformed at the box office might hope for a healthy afterlife on DVD. Angry Birds 2 has an updated version of that post-release glory: It’s been one of the most popular attractions on Netflix, according to the company’s relatively new “top 10” feature, an ongoing, Netflix-only equivalent of the box-office or video-rental charts. Angry Birds 2 was recently charting as the most-watched movie on Netflix, and it’s been on the list near-constantly since the list was launched. Which means it’s been watched more than Netflix’s expensive Oscar-courting Martin Scorsese film The Irishman, more watched than the eagerly anticipated To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sequel, and more watched than any of those popular Adam Sandler originals. How exactly did this happen?

Some of the reasons for Angry Birds 2’s Netflix success are the same reasons that led to an Angry Birds film series in the first place: brand recognition and laziness. Any number of families (or adult animation fans) might have tolerated the first Angry Birds in the theater, ignored the sequel or forgot it, then shrugged and given it a stream in the comfort of home. It’s certainly a more attractive prospect as part of a $12-a-month subscription than as the centerpiece of a $100 family-of-four movie outing. (As someone who took his daughter to see Angry Birds 2 unsolicited, because it was hot out and our friends were going, I certainly empathize with both watching for the hell of it, and also not wanting to pay much for the privilege.)

a giant eyed little baby bird from angry bird 2 Image: Sony Pictures

In theaters, Angry Birds 2 also suffered from a relatively rare affliction: It’s a sequel that’s much better than its predecessor, yet it wasn’t seen nearly as widely because of its predecessor. The uptick in quality is presumably thanks to director Thurop Van Orman, the Cartoon Network mainstay who worked on The Powerpuff Girls, Adventure Time, and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, among others. Crucially, he had nothing to do with the original Angry Birds film.

Angry Birds 2 is still confined to the ugly animation style established by Angry Birds specialists Rovio Animation, doubly disappointing because Sony has its own animation house with an appealingly bouncy, bendy style. (See: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, or a Hotel Transylvania movie.) But while the first movie complemented its unappealing neck-free character designs with a compendium of hacky family-movie non-jokes (slapstick happening in ultra-slow motion; phrases like “spoiler alert” and “TMI”), Van Orman and his team at least craft some fast-paced gags that don’t rest wholly on clichés and catchphrases. There’s an amusing sequence, for example, where several of the characters dress up in a giant eagle costume to infiltrate the base where parrot Zeta (voiced by Leslie Jones) is masterminding her attacks on both the birds and the pigs of the earlier film.

The necessary team-up between the formerly adversarial birds and pigs from the first film turns out to be another boon for Angry Birds 2. Big green pig Leonard (Bill Hader) was one of the first movie’s few comic highlights, and he’s funnier when interacting with Red (Jason Sudeikis) and the other angry birds. (Who, as ever, do not appear especially angry.) Hader and Sudeikis are just two members of the first movie’s stunning, squandered roster of comic talent, which also includes Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate McKinnon, Hannibal Buress, Peter Dinklage, Tituss Burgess, Jillian Bell, Billy Eichner, and Tony Hale, among others. The sequel loses a few of those, while adding Jones, Rachel Bloom, Tiffany Haddish, Awkwafina, and Zach Woods. As before, that’s too many comedians fighting for scraps of good material. But Jones, Haddish, Dinklage, and Hader all have their moments, at least.

To be clear, Angry Birds 2 still tries to mine laughs from boilerplate commentary on the action (“That’s not good!”) and characters doing “funny” dances. It also inexplicably shoehorns in a romantic dynamic between Rachel Bloom and Jason Sudeikis’ characters, alongside a vaguely condescending girls-can-do-engineering-too subplot for Bloom. Bloom and Sudeikis make a great pair in a live-action rom-com; here, the relationship falls into a familiar kid-movie dead zone, where it’s not sophisticated enough for adults in the audience, yet probably not of any interest to the kindergarten set. All told, it would be a stretch to call this movie fully good, though many more critics on Rotten Tomatoes were willing to give the sequel a thumb’s up than were willing to stand up for the first film. Even within the narrow confines of underseen family-friendly animated movies from 2019, Missing Link and Abominable are both leagues better.

But those movies aren’t currently on Netflix, where “good enough” can combine with lowered expectations to create a perfect storm of okay-ness. Angry Birds 2 wasn’t literally made for streaming, given that it follows up a theatrically released predecessor and retains most of its principal cast in the hopes of attracting patrons at the worldwide box office. In spirit, though, it belongs on Netflix, both in its brand-name filler-content bona fides, and its surprisingly palatable (though still unchallenging) execution. With the theatrical exhibition business thrown into even more turmoil lately, this middling but inoffensive sequel may be the accidental future of formerly big-screen family entertainment.