Review: ‘Free Birds’ is a turkey
In movie geek parlance, a ‘turkey’ is a movie that, well, it isn’t very good.
When Free Birds calls itself “the greatest turkey movie of all time,” it’s more than a little self-deprecating. Yes, the movie is about turkeys, but there’s that double meaning right there. That’s the joke, see. Ha ha.
It opens with a disclaimer reminding the audience that this movie is about talking turkeys; though Free Birds is about an historical event (the first Thanksgiving), it indicates that you should probably not take it too seriously.
Gee, the movie just apologized to me twice before I even got to watch it; that’s not a good sign.
Plot and characters
The story begins with a turkey named Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson in a very Owen Wilson-y performance) living on a free range turkey farm, and being the only turkey smart enough to understand why the farmer keeps feeding them corn. There is a series of flashbacks explaining his life on the farm, where he is an outcast, before he is chosen to be the turkey pardoned by the President.
The President here is clearly a Bill Clinton parody; because a movie whose target audience wasn’t alive when that man was president are sure to get the joke. Seriously, where all the G.W. impersonators out of town that week?
Anyway, our hero is taken to Camp David (because that’s what happens to pardoned turkeys… wait, the movie said not to take this seriously, so never mind), and we get another montage showing his day to day life. He falls in love with pizza and telenovelas, because, sure, why not?
After an undisclosed amount of time (it was after a montage, so it could have been anything from days to years, I guess), Reggie is kidnapped by another turkey, Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson), who is on a mission to find a time machine and stop the first Thanksgiving. The Great Turkey told him where to find it. His character traits are that he is strong and dumb, as opposed to weak and smart like Reggie.
They find a secret underground base filled with men in hazmat suits (for some inexplicable reason). They are, hands down, the funniest characters in the movie, so of course they are only in one scene. Anyway, the two turkeys go back in time to before the first Thanksgiving in a time machine voiced by George Takei.
I just wrote the phrase “in a time machine voiced by George Takei.”
In the past, they meet a turkey tribe lead by Chief Broadbeak (voiced by Keith David), and his two children, Jenny (Amy Poehler) and Ranger (director Jimmy Hayward). The son becomes a rival for Jake; the daughter, a love interest for Reggie. The turkeys must work together to save their race from becoming a traditional holiday food (with the help of the most egregious Chuck E. Cheese product placement ever). The Pilgrims are the villains, of course; the Native Americans kind of show up at the end and, to their credit, blow the whole thing off as stupid.
Most of the first half is non-stop dumb comedy; the second half decides to get serious for a change. Sometimes, a movie can pull this off. Sometimes, it can’t. Like this time.
Animation and character design
This is a first time studio, so if they came out of the box with something on the level of Pixar or DreamWorks, that would be impressive. They don’t, but since it’s their first time, they’re given a bit more leeway; the animation is more than passable.
The character designs are fairly good for the humans, though lacking some detail. The turkeys are a mixed bag, but then, turkeys are ugly birds in real life. I liked the girl turkey’s character design (it seems 2013 was my year for praising female turkey character design); ironically, despite being a wild turkey, she’s completely white, which is a common trait of domestic turkeys.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I actually kind of liked this movie. Oh, it’s still terrible. This is a negative review; but I still like it, even respect it – more than, say, Epic, which seemed like a series of stories I’d already seen squashed together.
It’s the best turkey movie ever made; yes, there’s no real competitor, but that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. The premise is kind of stupid (turkeys in time), but that's not why I’m panning it; that it failed on most every other level is why. But that premise; hey, it was worth a shot!