[Before I get to my review, let me say this: watching Free Birds will have as much affect on your kids’ eating habits in regards to turkey as watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will make them think that there are giant taco supremes and shrimpanzees that will appear out of the forest. Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system!]
Free Birds is a glorious re-imagining of our American Thanksgiving, where struggling Pilgrims and Native American Indians fellowshipped together over some roasted turkey. When Reggie (Owen Wilson) is chosen as the pardoned turkey by POTUS, thanks in part to the President’s narcoleptic daughter, he is soon turkeynapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), a turkey who believes the U.S.’ secret time travel device could be used to get turkeys off of the annual holiday menu. Real-life military enforcer of Plymouth Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) provides the main baddie character, and it’s on like a mash-up echoing Braveheart or Chicken Run, depending on which version of Mel Gibson you prefer.
The animation is pretty tight, and the blend of realistic-looking backgrounds melds well with the animated turkeys. The elements of sci-fi like the talking time-traveling ship S.T.E.V.E. (voiced by George Takei) work like an old Star Trek episode, dropping Jake and Reggie in the past, completely out of their element. There are enough adult-level jokes that the older audience was kept plugged in, while the adventure, the “find your destiny” element of the scrawny, underdog Reggie had the kids cheering.
Free Birds isn’t great, but it bridges the gap for animated flicks from Cloudy 2 to Frozen in an otherwise slow animated season. We’re reminded that change requires hard work, that someone, often a put-upon, prophet-type, has to break the cycle to remind a group of people who’ve been held down over time that they can be something different. It reminds me of James Moore’s parable about the Locksmith, and the way that Jesus showed up in a time and place where the religious leaders said they “got” God (but were missing the point).
Sometimes the difference between freedom and tyranny is one person… or turkey.