Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for some Action/Peril and Rude Humor
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Written by: Scott Mosier & Jimmy Hayward
Voices of: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler, Lesley Nicol, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David & Jimmy Hayward
Plenty of Christmas and Halloween fare fill the theaters during the last quarter of each year. Where are all the Thanksgiving movies? FREE BIRDS might offer some consolation in the idea that more movies revolving around this American holiday might make for some really lame so-called entertainment. After all this is a holiday based around a historical feast that is celebrated by stuffing your face full of tasty food surrounded by relatives (most of whom you only see once a year for good reason). FREE BIRDS begins with a promising first act, but winds up being nothing more than a lame CG-animated kids movie by the time the uninspired ending has crawled to a close though.
Reggie is smarter than your average turkey. As Thanksgiving approaches, he gets nervous and the other turkeys seem blissfully unaware of their impending doom. Luckily for Reggie, he’s the country’s official pardoned turkey for the year. This tradition had made him the mascot for the annual holiday and therefore, he has no real reason to worry about winding up on the menu. This changes when Jake, a musclebound turkey who’s not too bright, breaks Reggie out of the White House. The pair use a time machine to travel back to November 1621. Jake attempts to take turkeys off as a traditional delicacy by banding together with a tribe of fellow turkeys, all while Reggie falls for the turkey chief’s daughter. Complications arise in the mentally unhinged Myles Standish, who will stop at nothing to kill every bird in the area.
FREE BIRDS excels in its first 30 minutes. The actual struggle to get to the time machine is genuinely funny. Quite a few creative jokes are thrown in and Frank (Woody Harrelson) is an enjoyable character. It’s very ironic that all the good will the film had built up for itself is lost as soon as the birds actually arrive back in their 1621 destination. The screenplay is credited to two different writers and it almost feels like they took turns on how they were telling the story. One of them took the reigns for the first 30 minutes and created what could have gone down as an underrated family film. They then made the mistake of handing it off to the another co-writer who didn’t seem to understand why the first third worked as well as it did. This is one possible theory or there’s the idea that a lot of the humor could be milked out of the getting to the premise rather than the actual time-travel adventure itself.
The shtick of Reggie being the straight-man to Jake’s brawny idiot gets hammered into the ground beyond repair. The use of a love interest only makes things far more predictable. The wasted big-name voice cast (Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, and Amy Poehler) never feel like they’re putting any effort into their roles. In fact, the most entertaining character is S.T.E.V.E. (the time machine itself played by George Takei). The second most entertaining come in the chuckling HAZMAT-suit-wearing henchmen who only pop up in the first 30 minutes (hence the reason for many of the laughs in the first third).
Last but not least, the animation itself ranges in quality. The birds look like well-rendered cartoon characters, but the humans look like choppy creations. This results in an end product that feels rushed, forced, and cheap in almost every way. The first 30 minutes earn it some grace points for providing a lot of laughs. Just when the film should have the most going for it, FREE BIRDS becomes a tired exercise in familiar tropes and less-than-stellar animation. This is a missed opportunity through and through. Be thankful that this movie will fast be forgotten.