“Free Birds” is one of those movies that you watch the trailer, or read the summary for, and just think, “Who the heck in the world would come up with something like that?” But really, it’s rather clever, particularly for an animated family film: two turkeys travel back in time to prevent their species from being on the Thanksgiving menu. It’s just too bad the execution is not as clever as the idea.
Directed by Jimmy Hayward, “Free Birds” was produced by Relativity Media, a studio that isn’t known for that animated movies—and probably for a reason. The film focuses on Reggie (Owen Wilson), who was born a little smarter than the other turkeys. He knows that the humans eat them every year, and tries to warn his fellow birds. But when Reggie is chosen by the President of the United States to be the pardoned turkey one Thanksgiving, he finds himself living it up at Camp David, and quickly forgets about his species’ plight.
Enter Jake (Woody Harrelson), the stupid, forgetful, but tough and determined turkey who kidnaps Reggie, believing he is the chosen turkey destined to save them all. Jake knows where the government is secretly working on a time machine nearby, and plans to use it to send them back in time to the first Thanksgiving, where they will change history to take turkey off the menu for good. Reggie is incredibly reluctant, but when he meets Jenny (Amy Poehler), a seventeenth century turkey determined to save her flock from the pilgrims, he realizes that there’s more to life than pizza and Spanish soap operas.
Many animated films nowadays do a decent job maintaining that balance between humor that is appropriate for kids but also amusing for adults. “Free Birds” doesn’t really do either. It’s very fast-paced, whizzing through a bunch of slap-sticky scenes that have no meaning rather than taking a breather every once in a while to tell a good joke or develop a character or plot point. Adults may appreciate some of the pop culture references and puns that most kids will miss, but overall will find themselves bored with the juvenile story, the message of which is extremely cliche. The younger ones may be amused with the characters—I mean, they are talking turkeys, and they’re pretty cute—and some of the sillier jokes, but a lot of it, depending on the age of the child, may just go right over their heads.
The animation isn’t that impressive to look at either, and even though they use different colors to distinguish between the turkeys, they all just run together after a while. The movie does have its moments, and it is certainly appropriate to watch this time of year. But while the outrageousness of the idea itself may be enough to get one through the movie, it isn’t enough to make it a holiday tradition, or even that memorable at all, really. And I will still be eating turkey for Thanksgiving.
Runtime: 91 minutes. Rated PG for some action/peril and rude humor.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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