“Free Birds” ** (out of 5)
Starring: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler, George Takei
Written by: David I. Stern & John Strauss (story), Jimmy Hayward & Scott Mosier (screenplay)
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
It’s important to preface this review with two things. First, I gave my child the choice of which movie he wanted to see between this and “Ender’s Game”. Without skipping a beat, he said “FREE BIRDS!”. Also, it bears mentioning that I’m not a fan of vocal leads Owen Wilson OR Woody Harrelson, and I actively try to avoid seeing movies they’re in. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like seeing “Wag the Dog” and having Woody surprise me with his presence. Keeping these things in mind, I didn’t think there would be much to whet my appetite; truth be told, there isn’t a great deal here to enjoy for kids or adults, but at least I can say that I didn’t abhor the experience, and it’s family friendly. If that does anything for you.
The idea is that turkeys are people, too. Yep. One turkey (Owen Wilson), who is ‘different than all the others’ (hence his purple visage), manages to become the one turkey the president pardons. The first daughter keeps him as a pet, and in the process, he orders pizza, watches telenovelas, and all while the humans are cool with the apparent personification of the turkey. The powerful turkey does not raise any red flags with humans of the present day, an interesting fact when contrasted with the humans from the past in the SAME MOVIE.
Did I say humans of the past? I did! That’s right, our hero turkey meets another powerful turkey (Harrelson), who has one goal in mind- travel back in time to get turkeys off the thanksgiving menu. This other powerful turkey has been able to (without opposable thumbs): infiltrate top-secret government plans on time-travel research, get past the secret service, defy physics and get into the time-travel ‘egg’, etc, and SUCCEEDS. Adding to the silliness is the fact that the film shows us that humans can’t understand the gobbles of turkeys (obviously), but the time capsule (with a navigation system voiced by George Takei) understands the turkeys perfectly (of course). I’m willing to suspend disbelief for most animated films, but this film takes complicated subjects and plays with them so lazily I couldn’t help but get perturbed.
Once our ‘hero turkeys’ reach the past and the Plymouth settlement, the film makes the most sense, and has the most fun. The interaction among the film’s main characters, while standard fare, makes the most sense, and provides a couple of laughs. Again, it’s nothing new, though. The most damning representation of the value of this film was in the reaction of my child, though, who seemed disinterested, and in fact, ready to nap about an hour into the film during the colonial scenes.
The film’s co-writer and producer, Scott Mosier, is a frequent collaborator of Kevin Smith. My problem with all of Smith’s movies has been the laziness of the script to not expound on a good original idea. While it’s not ultimately his responsibility, I sense the same thing with this film from Mosier and crew. It’s not terrible, but the original, silly idea of altering the future of turkeys is unfortunately extrapolated over 90 minutes of typical character development, confounding science, and nonsensical decision-making by the humans in the film, who supposedly have much larger brains/brain capacity. I certainly didn’t feel compelled to think, laugh, or enjoy myself for most of the film.