Freed Birds tells the strange tale of Reggie (Owen Wilson), an unusually smart turkey whose attempts to get the other birds of his flock to realize the horrifying truth – their farmer master is fattening them all up for Thanksgiving dinner – fall upon deaf ears. One day, Reggie finds himself “pardoned” from his Thanksgiving responsibilities by the President of the United States; thereafter, our fowl hero gets to spend his days at Camp David, watching Spanish soap operas and eating Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza.
Then, without warning, Jake (Woody Harrelson) – a peculiar turkey who prides himself on his finely-sculpted… turkey glutes – drags Reggie away from his comfy and sedate newfound lifestyle, so that the pair can fulfill their true destiny: to travel back in time to the original Thanksgiving and get turkey off the holiday menu for good.
Directed by Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!, Jonah Hex) and co-written by Hayward and Scott Mosier – from a screen story credited to David I. Stern (Open Season 2 & 3) and John J. Strauss (The Santa Clause 2 & 3) – it goes without saying that Free Birds easily ranks among the most idiosyncratic and utterly odd movies released this year. While the 3D animated feature can be charming every so often (and goes by fairly quickly), it generally fails at being whimsical family-friendly entertainment; instead, it’s mostly just nonsensical and flat.
Hayward certainly makes a number of questionable creative choices that border on (or are) offensive – be it how turkeys from the 17th century dress like Native American stereotypes or a running joke that involves a “special” turkey (who is partly the offspring of a chicken). However, the politically-incorrect elements are ultimately just another reason why Free Birds will leave grown-up moviegoers scratching their head, as they try and figure out exactly what kind of Kool-Aid the filmmakers were drinking. Meanwhile, underage moviegoers will just appreciate all the turkey-based gags and physical comedy (nothing more or less).
Free Birds may be a hodgepodge work – in terms of themes and satire – but on the surface, the story and characters are mostly just boring and conventional. Anyone remotely familiar with time-travel story tropes will figure out the third act twists within the first 10-20 minutes (not an exaggeration); the same holds true for the various character arcs and relationships. Sadly, the movie has neither the heart nor the necessary spark of artistic madness, to make up for the perfunctory story design.
What saves Free Birds from being a total waste are its cast members, who infuse their animated counterparts with far more life than the rubbery and B-grade Pixar quality animation deserves. Wilson brings his customary laid-back delivery style to the uninteresting role of Reggie (take it or leave it); meanwhile, Harrelson tackles his lines with enough dim-witted enthusiasm to make his character work. Indeed, one of the film’s best elements is the competitive bro-mance between Jack and the son of turkey Chief Broadbeak (Keith David, who never fails to bring some gravitas to even the silliest of voice-acting roles).
As for the rest of the supporting cast: Amy Poehler brings her usual, but welcome pluck and charisma as Jenny, the kind and intelligent turkey gal who Reggie falls for (despite a lame running joke that involves her eye becoming misaligned under stress). Lastly, Hayward does a good job of voicing multiple players – he received an “additional voice talent” credit for his efforts – and making each one unique, if only for a couple of lines. And, of course, we cannot forget the time machine – who goes by the acronym S.T.E.V.E. – as voiced by George Takei; and yes, he does eventually get to say that catchphrase.
Is Free Birds solid kids-friendly entertainment? No. Is is worth paying the extra ticket surcharge to see in 3D? Not really. At the end of the day, Free Birds feels like the result of a meeting among studio executives, who just threw together every idea they could imagine; that is, while attempting to create a Thanksgiving movie that would be an easy sell (or $ell) to families. The final result is a mess, for sure, but it could’ve been much worse (high praise, I know).
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for Free Birds:
Free Birds is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters in the U.S. It is 91 minutes long and Rated PG for some action/peril and rude humor.