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John Cohen & John Rice Interview: Angry Birds Movie 2

Producer John Cohen and co-director John Rice share behind-the-scenes stories of The Angry Birds Movie 2, available on Blu-ray starting November 12th.

angry birds 2 interview

The Angry Birds 2 Movie flies into home release this week, shortly after becoming the highest-rated video game film on Rotten Tomatoes. It's positive reception comes in no small part from the work of its creative team, as the sequel had new writers and directors to help expand the franchise beyond the confines of the Rovio game.

But broadening Red's (Jason Sudeikis) horizons doesn't mean forgetting what he's gone through before. Producer John Cohen and storyboard artist John Rice, who became co-director of Angry Birds 2, were both on hand to help shepherd the smooth transition. They were also present at the Los Angeles Zoo over the weekend to celebrate the November 12th Blu-ray release of the film, and they shared their insights about the storytelling amidst bringing awareness to avian conservation efforts.

In an exclusive interview with Screen Rant, Cohen and Rice discussed how plot points like the hatchlings' search for unborn siblings came into being and where the idea for Zeta's (Leslie Jones) island originated. For more insight into the world of Angry Birds, including a delightful short about Silver's (Rachel Bloom) first livestream, be sure to pick up a copy of the Blu-ray this week.

I know Johnny [Rice] relates most to Red. Which Angry Birds character do you relate to most, John [Cohen]?

John Cohen: I happen to really, really love Silver. Silver’s my favorite character from the movie. She's played by Rachel Bloom, one of the most talented people I've had the luck of getting to work with. As an improvisational comedian, as a writer – as someone who can communicate so much personality, comedy, and emotion just by using her voice.

Silver is Chuck’s sister, and Chuck is the jump gag character. He moves fast; he talks fast; everything about him is fast. We asked ourselves, “If she shares DNA with Chuck, what is she like?” And so, Silver’s superpower is that she thinks fast. We really love her as a character.

As for Johnny, how did you relate to Red’s journey in The Angry Birds Movie 2? Because he had a nice character arc about both self-acceptance and teamwork.

John Rice: Yes. I could relate to that, and to accepting the fact that women are powerful forces to be reckoned with.

There were many more female characters in the sequel than in the first film. Was that a conscious choice to open it up more, or did it evolve from the story?

John Cohen: We really wanted to create great new characters for the sequel, and the characters that emerged in the development process that we all just fell in love with and really came to life with such great comedic personalities and details were Silver, Zeta – who is played by the great Leslie Jones, who is also so brilliantly funny and talented.

This is the first time Leslie's ever done a lead voice in an animated movie, and when we realized that we couldn't believe it because she's such a natural. And Courtney, who was played by Awkwafina in the movie, is a piggy who is Leonard's assistant that really comes into her own in the story. And then we have another character that I absolutely love named Debbie, played by Tiffany Haddish. I don't want to spoil how she fits into the story, but there's a lot of fun surprises.

angry birds 2 zeta

Speaking of Zeta, where did the idea of an eagle trapped on an icy island come from? Was she born there?

John Rice: I think they were born there. I remember coming across an article early on in this movie, and I found out that there's a frozen island that has eagles on it. There's not a lot of food there, and so it's very competitive. I don't remember what it was called or where it is exactly, but it was surprising to me that it really exists.

Bad luck to be born there, then.

John Rice: Well, I don’t think most of the Eagles really care that much, because they have their fur coats. But Zeta wasn’t having it.

John Cohen: Especially with our story, where we wanted to tell the story of the birds and pigs being forced to work together against a common enemy.

I grew up in Michigan, which is a very cold climate in the winter. Looking on TV and seeing these places like California and Florida that had year round sun and warm weather, I definitely had dreams of getting to live in that type of climate. And so, Zeta sees these two tropical islands right out her back window, and here she is in this freezing cold climate. It makes a lot of sense, and I think you understand why she'd like a better life.

John Rice: Yeah, I think that's one of the great strengths that John [Cohen] brings to this movie and the first one, and obviously all the others he’s worked on. It’s this idea that everybody can relate to. Well, not everybody, but so many of us who grew up in cold climates can totally relate to wanting to be on a tropical island. Even in California sometimes, I'm like, “I just want to go live on a tropical island and be away from all this.”

It’s just the way he always has something that you can relate to. It’s so important.

Another relatable thing is the teaming up against a greater enemy, or at least it’s something people should be doing nowadays. What inspired you to make that the central point of the second Angry Birds film?

John Cohen: You know, it's an important it's an important message right now. I think it's always been an important message, but you can find a common ground. There's always a way to find something that you have in common with someone who may come from a different place or may have a different worldview. But teamwork is a great thing, and it leads to great results.

John Rice: And to great comedy. Putting completely different types together.

You certainly had many different types in the movie. How did you amass such an amazing cast?

John Cohen: We love working with great improvisational comedians, because they bring so much ad libbing, improv, and fantastic spontaneous performances when they come into a recording booth. But we really started off by talking about – and this is something Johnny and Thurop Van Orman, our other director, talked about at the very beginning – who are our favorite people? Who are the funniest people out there today?

We were so lucky that every single person we wanted to have in this movie agreed [to be in it]. We were so lucky to have such an incredible group of people working on the movie, and I think they elevated every single scene because of how brilliantly funny they were.

Johnny, you've worked a lot on TV animation, as well. What's the biggest difference for you going from TV to film?

John Rice: Schedule. In TV, we have very little time. You have to be super decisive and fast, and there's very little rethinking anything. It is what it is, and it goes quickly. I love working in film, because we’re able to make something, and it's funny, but we're not satisfied with just funny. We want to make it funnier and funnier, and we have enough time to do that, which I adore.

We brought on some really funny people, and artists that have great ideas. We sit in a room, and sometimes I'm pinching myself because I'm like, “This is my job.” A bunch of funny people just making jokes and laughing, and some of it gets into the movie. Some of it doesn't, but it's just so much fun along the way. Sometimes it doesn't feel like work at all.

You went from storyboard artist on the first Angry Birds film to co-director of the second. What were you most conscious of during that transition? What did you hope to keep from one and bring to the other?

John Rice: I think staying true to the characters from the first film. I think we wanted to keep them who they are, essentially, which I think I helped bring along to the second one.

John Cohen: And Johnny is really, really funny. So hysterically funny, so talented, such a great storyteller. He’s gifted at finding relatable and identifiable experiences that we go through as humans and creating the bird world expression of that. Just because you're a bird doesn't mean that you don't deal with the frustrations and awkwardness of life and the things that we all encounter. The amount of funny contributions to both of these movies that came from Johnny, I could list them and we'd be here for probably six hours.

John Rice: Go on!

angry birds 2 hatchlings

I don't know whose contribution it was, but the hatchlings trying to rescue the unborn eggs throughout the movie was a perfect companion piece to the main story. How did that plot hatch, if you will?

John Rice: That was Sean Charmatz, our head of story. He was given that as a project, like, what do you do with this? I think John [Cohen] gave him the idea of getting the eggs back; losing the eggs and getting them back. Then Sean ran with it and did amazing stuff, like going into space. I'm like, “What! Really?”

There was even stuff he did beyond that, which didn't make the film. It was crazy, but that's kind of the beauty of the way this film happened. Everybody felt free to put their craziest idea out there. And then, if it's too far, we pulled it back.

But that whole little story, I have to say – and I kind of hate to admit this – I didn't like the idea of having that story intermixed. At the time, our story felt kind of complex and this was taking me out of the main story. And I was so wrong. It works really well, and I love the fact that the two plots connect.

You showed us a fun short with the characters, which will be on the Angry Birds Movie 2 Blu-ray, but were there any deleted scenes or ideas you loved that you had to pull back from?

John Cohen: There are always so many ideas and so many things. And it's fun, because every single idea that you explore in some way does lead you to another idea. There aren't any that we've included on the Blu-ray as deleted scenes from the movie, because once we locked into the story of the movie, it all worked together and we stayed very much on that.

John Rice: That is true. And I think that's unusual. We screened early versions of the movie as just storyboards, and the audiences went crazy right away. And the executives at Sony were like, “Just keep doing this.” Little notes here and there, but there weren't any drastic changes or big pieces that were thrown away or pushed to the side. It just kind of came out the way it started.

I know you guys said you can’t confirm or deny any Angry Birds 3 possibilities, but is there any other video game property you'd want to bring to life?

John Rice: I don't know. I don't really play video games, but I know my son would probably like a Roblox movie about now.

John Cohen: I'm still playing Words with Friends on a daily basis, and I think the people I play are the only ones still this addicted. So, I think a Words with Friends movie is long overdue.

Would the words come to life?

John Cohen: Maybe. It will be the movie that has the best vocabulary.

More: Read Screen Rant's Angry Birds Movie 2 Review

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is now available on digital and Blu-ray.

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