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Why 'The Angry Birds Movie' Took Flight: Interview With Producer John Cohen

As the movie adaptation launches into summer box-office success, Cohen shares the story behind the screen

Published on: June 08, 2016

Ask any device-savvy 6- or 7-year kid what his favorite game is and he's likely to say Angry Birds; many adults are likely to agree. To date, Angry Birds been downloaded 3.5 billion times across its applications, launching its Finnish creator, Rovio Entertainment, into mainstream nomenclature beside its hatchlings. The characters are among the most recognizable across the globe. 

Angry Birds is one of the world’s most popular video games for its relative wholesomeness, ease of use, universal comic appeal and low price. It’s been developed into animated shorts, merchandise, books and now a feature-length film. Is it any wonder that The Angry Birds Movie was one of summer 2016’s most kid-anticipated features and, after it opened on May 1,  an immediate box-office success

Producer John Cohen
Producer John Cohen

John Cohen, a producer with credits including Despicable Me and Hop, has made his career following kid trends and creating film entertainment for the entire family. As a fan of the Angry Birds game franchise, he approached Rovio in 2011 about adapting the games into a movie. The path to the finished film took three-and-a-half years once formal production began; the voice-over cast includes favorite actors such as Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikls and Peter Dinklage.

We caught up with Cohen this week to hear about the story behind The Angry Birds Movie and its success. (Also, enter to win free movie passes to The Angry Birds Movie!)

What is the story behind developing The Angry Birds Movie?

When I approached Rovio about making a feature film, there were already the animated shorts, developed by the Toons Channel, which gave a great foundation for developing the characters for a movie. Around 2012, we started working on it together, to develop the story.

Most of the time, when you have properties like this, they already have built-in mythology. But The Angry Birds Movie had some room to build mythology and map out a story of its own. I brought in the writer Jon Vitti, who I worked with on the Alvin movies, and he really brought it to life.

Casting came after that, and happens before the animation process. It’s three and a half years, a long time to work on a project. You have to like it a lot because it takes up so much of your life! But I love my job, because I am bringing entertainment for the entire family, creating something for everyone.

What is the message of The Angry Birds Movie?

It is a comedy first and foremost. At its heart are the characters you fall in love with. It’s a story of outcasts — Red, Chuck and Bomb — who are hoping to be a part of a community working toward a common goal. It also has an anti-bullying message, something I feel very strongly about. Red is teased as a young bird for his appearance — his eyebrows — and that contributes to his anger later.

These characters leave the audience feeling a connection to them. It’s a movie for the whole family to come and have a great time.

What was a distinct animation or production feature that make The Angry Birds Movie special?

The physical comedy in the movie. I’m a fan of Looney Toons and Buster Keaton, those comedies where there’s a physicality that makes it funny without sound. An audience of any age, anywhere in the world can enjoy it. Physical comedy plays the same no matter where you are or who you are.

John Cohen, producer, with the voice-over cast
John Cohen, producer, with the voice-over cast

How do you select your voice-over actors?

We go for actors in these roles who we feel are the funniest, with good improvisational experience. When you’re doing voice-over, you’re alone in a booth with just your voice; no other actors and only a microphone. That ad lib ability is key. The actors we worked with in this film all have incredible improvisational skills — Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis, to name just a couple of them.

Do any of your actors have kids? Does that motivate them to participate?

Most of the actors are parents or have kids in their lives. For me, as a parent (Cohen's daughter is 2 and a half), I’m always thinking of things through the lens of my daughter or nephew. It’s nice to work on movies where you know it’s enjoyed by everyone in the audience.

Rovio has teamed up with charitable organizations like Bird Life International in the past, to raise awareness and money for causes such as bird conservation. Similarly, many kids' movies nowadays often have a greater social message. Did the release of The Angry Birds Movie include anything like this?

Yes, we were fortunate to team up with the United Nations! Angry Birds partnered with the U.N. for the International Day of Happiness — which actually lasts for the month of March. The goal is to teach kids around the world about climate change and actions they can take. There was an event where Red was named ambassador for the Day of Happiness, and we met with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon




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