The Bock’s Office: ‘Free Birds’ a feather-brained fowl fable
November 7, 2013
If you go
“Free Birds,” rated PG
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 91 minutes
Starring: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler and George Takei
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
Craig — Describing something as a "turkey" in the movie business usually isn't a compliment. In the case of "Free Birds," that term has another connotation, though not a wholly different one.
A life spent on a turkey farm is a happy one — unless you're aware of why you're there. As the only one of his flock who understands that he's destined to wind up on someone's dinner table, Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson) has spent most of his life trying to convince everyone around him of the danger that will befall them to no avail.
Just when it looks like he'll be next on the chopping block, the terrified turkey finds himself the recipient of an amazing stroke of luck, chosen by no less than the president of the United States (Jimmy Hayward) as the official "pardoned turkey" as part of Thanksgiving tradition. Adopted by the first family and living out of the comforts at Camp David, Reggie's days suddenly are full of pleasures like bunny slippers, cable TV and 24/7 pizza deliveries.
Just as he's starting to enjoy himself, he crosses paths with another of his kind named Jake (Woody Harrelson), the leader of the Turkey Liberation Front, a one-bird operation dedicated to stopping the horrors of Thanksgiving altogether — by traveling back in time to keep the first meal from ever happening.
As the guy who's played both the straight man and the wacky associate, Wilson is a good fit as the too-smart-for-his-own-good gobbler whose newly comfy lifestyle is interrupted by an impromptu break-in to a secret government lab, some tampering with the laws of time and space and, ultimately, a journey to 1621. And if he thought life on the farm was bad, imagine how his puny frame and tendency to talk too much will endear him to wild turkeys who have yet to learn the joys of remote controls and Telemundo.
Harrelson is the one to watch — or hear, rather — as the thoroughly deluded Jake, who thinks he's on a mission from an entity called "the Great Turkey," putting his brawn to good use in his pursuit of rewriting history, usually by heaving his smaller companion around like a javelin.
Amy Poehler makes a fine hen as Jenny, the daughter of a turkey chieftain (Keith David) from the days before America even acknowledged that special Thursday in November, their tribe of birds doing all they can to stay out of the clutches of some very hungry pilgrims.
Enter two modern turkeys in a time machine named STEVE (George Takei) …
What starts out as an amusing and promising full-length debut from the animation studio Reel FX quickly veers into predictable terrain that makes you wonder if it should have been pitched as a TV special. Well, you can't change the past — actually, maybe you can according to this story's time travel logic — but since it's out in theaters already, let's judge this by its own merits.
For every blessing provided by this Turkey Day feature, it would seem there's a counterpoint to be less thankful about the more you watch.
The lead voices are top notch, but at the same time, the design is nothing special. Certain moments don't get overly maudlin as many cartoons these days do, yet there's also not a lot of heart.
Where it does work is the excessively silly details, like the hyper, possibly narcoleptic first daughter (Kaitlyn Maher); the revelation that turkeys can inflate their wattles like bullfrogs; and the liberties taken with the predatory folks of Plymouth Colony. All the history books will tell you Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) and William Bradford (Dan Fogler) hunted with dynamite centuries before its invention.
"Free Birds" scrapes by because of its presentation as purely inane material with which to stuff your face, never worrying about the empty calories. As far as holiday films go, another entry in the tiny list of Thanksgiving movies is at least more welcome than another yuletide feature.
After all, nobody cares what happens with their Christmas ham.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.
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