“Thanksgiving is a turkey’s worst nightmare.” So says Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson), an outcast turkey who has never been part of the flock.
This year, however, Reggie has much to be thankful for. On the eve of Thanksgiving he is pardoned by the president, and taken to Camp David where he leads a life of luxury, watching TV and ordering in pizzas.
Reggie is in turkey heaven until a wild turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson), the leader (and only member), of the Turkey Freedom Front, kidnaps him, babbling a wild story about the Great Turkey and a magic doorknob. Jake’s plan is to use a top secret egg shaped time machine to travel back to Plymouth Colony in 1621, just days before the first Thanksgiving, and take turkey off the menu.
PETA will likely approve of “Free Birds” pro-Tofurky message (and just in time for American Thanksgiving) but will the kids gobble up “Free Birds”?
They’ll probably enjoy the turkey characters and the cute little fuzzball chicks are guaranteed to make little voices go “Ahhhh,” but story wise “Free Birds” is as dry as Aunt Mable’s overdone turkey. There are good lessons about being part of the flock and learning about confidence, but the story feels drawn out to feature length.
The voice work is solid. Harrelson, Wilson and Amy Poehler do confident work, and George Takei amps it up as the voice of the time machine, but despite the headline voices, many of the jokes fall flat, plucked of the impact by long awkward “Family Guy” style pauses that don’t work as well for an audience full of kids as they do for adults.
Compared to many recent animated kid’s films—or even Angry Birds for that matter—“Free Birds” feels average, like a flightless bird trying to soar with the Pixars of the genre.
“There are some gross traditions in American Thanksgiving,” says Jimmy Hayward, the Kingston, Ontario born, Los Angeles based director of the animated Thanksgiving comedy Free Birds. “Stuff I didn’t eat as a kid. Yams with marshmallows is an excellent example of that.”
Food choices aside, the director compares the American holiday to Christmas in Canada.
“Ultimately I think Canadian Thanksgiving is not that much different,” he says on the line from his Los Angeles home. “I think in Canada Christmas is for everybody of sorts of religions and creeds. It’s almost the same sort of holiday as Thanksgiving is here. It’s the holiday where everybody takes the most time off work and really make sure they travel where people belong. Everybody goes mad crazy shopping the day after. Boxing day is a lot like Black Friday is here, so I think ultimately it’s all about getting together with the people you love in both places. I think that’s the beauty of the holiday.”
In the movie Owen Wilson voices Reggie, a loner turkey kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson) a zealot member of the Turkey Freedom Front, who takes him back in time to Plymouth Colony in 1621 just days before the first Thanksgiving to take turkey off the menu.
The plot sounds PETA approved but Hayward says, “the fact that a bunch of meat eaters are working with a vegan to make this movie illustrates that none of us have an agenda.”
“We were setting up to tell a funny and endearing story about these characters. The real message is, pay attention to the people that are helping you through life at the holidays. Stop and take a moment to appreciate that.
“Woody Harrelson is vegan and eats with a wooden fork. He’s very in touch with that part of himself and I totally respect that. He understood going into the movie that in no way were we trying to build a message into it. Woody thinks pizza is worse than turkey! He thinks pizza is one of the unhealthiest things ever. Owen pointed out to me that this movie could have been about two beans who travel back to Toyko to save themselves from tofu.”