Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Stars: voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Colm Meany, George Takei, Amy Poehler.
An animated Braveheart with turkeys?
This brisk but far fetched animated film about a couple of time travelling turkeys who try to change history and the traditional Thanksgiving feast could just about write its own one-line reviews. Something along the lines of “it fails to soar” or “this year’s Thanksgiving turkey” spring to mind. But thankfully this debut film from Dallas based animation company Reel FX is not quite that dire.
Regie (voiced by Owen Wilson) is raised on a turkey farm, but unlike the rest of his fellow turkeys, he seems aware of the fate that awaits them. He is inquisitive, curious and not as lazy as his fellow turkeys who are happy enough to feed on corn. This year though he becomes the lucky turkey that is annually pardoned by the US President and taken away to live a relatively luxurious and easy life at Camp David.
But Regie doesn’t have much time to enjoy eating pizzas and watching Mexican soap operas on television before he encounters Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson), an aggressive and delusional turkey who claims he is on a secret mission at the behest of the Turkey Freedom Front and the mysterious “Great Turkey.” At first Regie is skeptical of Jake and his claims until he finds himself sneaking into a top secret government research facility and riding a time machine back to Plymouth in 1621 in an attempt to change history. There the pair encounter a colony of intelligent turkeys who are hiding away from the human settlement of Jamestown.
As the food supplies are running low, Myles Standish (Colm Meany), the commandant of the settlement, is arranging to hunt the turkeys and use them as food. Regie and Jake find themselves drawn into the fight against the humans, along with Jenny (Amy Poehler), the feisty daughter of the chief turkey.
Free Birds explores family friendly themes of tolerance, overcoming adversity, cooperation and a sense of community and belonging. It combines elements of the odd couple buddy comedy formula, high concept sci-fi and historical drama, and there are echoes of the superior Chicken Run here as well. Like many other film dealing with the concept of time travel the writers play fast and loose with the rules, physics and logic of time travel.
The director is Jimmy Hayward, a former animator who previously directed Horton Hears A Who and the dire comic book adaptation Jonah Hex. The computer generated animation is quite, and Hayward maintains a brisk pace throughout. But the interesting concept itself is let down by the script, which has been written by four writers, including Hayward, Scott Mosier, and co-producers David Stern (Open Season 3, etc) and John Strauss (The Santa Clause 2 and 3, etc).
Hayward has assembled a strong vocal cast to flesh out the characters. Wilson and Harrelson do a great double act as the odd couple adventurers, and their banter provides some funny moments. Wilson brings his usual hints of awkwardness and vulnerability to his vocal performance as Regie, while Harrelson brings plenty of bluster and bravado to his performance as the brash, hyperactive but clueless Jake. And George Takei (of Star Trek fame) ironically provides the soothing voice for STEVE, the navigation system for the egg shaped, invisible time machine. The human characters themselves are, for the most part, just one dimensional.
The film is full of anachronisms, many of which are deliberate, and some of the most blatant product placement seen in an animated film. Its dubious take on history, especially the treatment of the indigenous population, may upset some, as will its risible solution to the answer of what could replace turkey on the traditional Thanksgiving feast. There is lots of slapstick humour and physical humour here that will appeal to younger audiences, but a few jokes will go over the head of many of the younger crowd. Much of the humour also falls flat. And for a G-rated film, there seems to be a bit of violence and some acts of animal cruelty that may prove a little disturbing.