Film Title: Free Birds
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Starring: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Colm Meaney, George Takei
Running Time: 91 min
In real life, turkeys have personalities, friends and a vocabulary that includes at least 30 distinct sounds. These attributes are not lost on the creators of Free Birds, an entertaining new animation about two time-travelling turkeys hoping to alter the very first Thanksgiving menu.
Scrawny, nervous Reggie (Owen Wilson) is an unlikely candidate for the annual presidential Thanksgiving turkey pardon, an “ancient” US tradition most likely dreamt up by JFK. Happily, the president’s daughter takes a shine to the bird. And lo, he escapes his fate as a plateful of antibiotic-resistant supergerms and is soon kicking back and ordering pizza from his quarters at Camp David.
In the circumstances, Reggie is most put out when brawny action hero Jake (Woody Harrelson) swoops in with a garbled message from the “Great Turkey”. The big bird drags the terrified Reggie on a mission for the Turkey Liberation Front, an adventure that takes them back to 1621 in a time machine voiced, gloriously, by George Takei.
Caught between native turkey warriors (including Amy Poehler’s fighting hen) and colonial hunters (led by Colm Meaney), our reluctant hero journeys on into a plot that gets increasingly cluttered as it goes on.
The animation is clean, cheap, cheerful and unlikely to keep John Lassiter awake at night. Well-meaning messages about cultural and historical sensitivity are as soft and feathery as the headlining foul.
Based on an idea from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, Free Birds isn’t quite the anarchic fun the plot could have allowed for. But the film does boast an appealing buddy pairing in Wilson and Harrelson, a dash of conceptual originality, and some genuinely funny jokes.