The story concerns Reggie the turkey who has been trying to convince his fellow birds that they are being fattened up to be eaten. When Reggie inadvertently becomes the ‘pardoned turkey’ saved by the President of the United States, he leaves the farm to live a life of improbable luxury. That is, until, he is kidnapped by Jake, the founder, president and only member of the Turkey Liberation Front, on a mission for the mysterious “Great Turkey”. Following the Great Turkey’s instructions, the pair find their way into a secret laboratory where they steal a prototype time machine and set off for the very first Thanksgiving, determined to take turkey off the menu.
The voice cast is actually reasonably high calibre and do their best with the material they’re given. Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler are likeable enough as Reggie, Jake and Jenny – Reggie’s Pilgrim-era love interest – but even their combined talents can’t overcome the film’s many problems.
First, turkeys are ugly birds. I mean really ugly. The characters in “Free Birds” have been given a design makeover to within an inch of their lives, to the point where they really look very little like turkeys at all. The rest of the character design, especially the humans, is pretty basic and you begin to suspect that having spent their money on a star-studded voice cast, savings had to be made elsewhere.
Next, is that having come up with the admittedly nifty idea of travelling back in time to change an important holiday’s traditions, the film seems to have nothing interesting to do beyond that. It’s also a film which completely lacks the courage of its convictions and has absolutely no pertinent message or moral to convey about the treatment of Native Americans by the Pilgrims or the treatment of animals in general, and those destined for the food chain in particular. The film meanders about, aping much better films such as “Open Season”, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Chicken Run” until it stumbles to its slightly bizarre resolution (a resolution which is completely undermined for the sake of a throwaway gag in a mid-credits scene). However it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the film’s one highlight: the time machine. A character in itself, it may be the only good thing to come out of “Free Birds” and deserves its own spin-off way more than “Puss-In-Boots” did.
As is often the case, I was accompanied by The Mertmas for this viewing, but he found it similarly listless and uninteresting. He was quite fidgety and bored after about half an hour and was pleased to be going home when it finished. Given he’s a seven year old who has happily sat through “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, that should let you know just how unengaging “Free Birds” is. Very young children might find it diverting but older children will rightly be expecting something with a bit more wit and substance.
If I want to see a time travel turkey, I’ll watch “The End Of Time” again but if the powers that be decide to go ahead and make a spin-off movie about a deliciously droll and sarcastic egg-shaped Time Machine voiced by George Takei, count me in.