The Short: Free Birds goes on a wild turkey chase in search of a story and gets about halfway there, but it’ll make your kids laugh along the way.
The Long of It: Really great cartoons are fewer and farther between of late. For every The Incredibles and Monsters Inc., there’s about ten Mars Needs Moms. Free Birds falls right in the middle of the Venn diagram that houses the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’s the story of Reggie (Owen Wilson), a misfit turkey looking for a flock who by the luck of the draw receives a presidential pardon one fine Thanksgiving. He’s kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), sent by The Great Turkey to travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving on a mission to take turkeys off the menu. With the help of a sentient time machine named S.T.E.V.E. (George Takei), the duo arrives in 1621 at Plymouth Colony and crosses paths with a flock of wild turkeys, including the pretty, sassy Jenny (Amy Poehler). They’re on the run from Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) and a herd of hungry pilgrims.
It feels familiar: there’s bits and pieces of movies we’ve seen before. The wild turkeys seem to have moved into the underground lair formerly inhabited by Antz, topped off by the magic tree from Pocahontas, plus the story of the misfit just looking for a place to fit in
While some of the plot twists are just a little too twisted (Reggie woos Jenny and just barely escapes Myles Standish by jumping in the time machine and showing his turkey girlfriend outer space), there are some decent jokes and turkey pratfalls. Kids will like the running pizza-based humor and some of the wackier turkeys.
Visually, 1621 looks nice with its beautifully rendered fall foliage. And these really are some good-looking turkeys. The film’s use of 3D looks more like an afterthought than anything else- there are no real eye popping sequences, despite an abundance of explosions and a couple of visits to the less interesting corners of space. We can’t all be Gravity.
The problem with casting celebrities in voice acting roles is that it takes the audience out of the story when the first fifteen minutes is spent wondering, “Who is that again?,” until you realize, “That turkey sounds like Leslie Knope.” The best voice actors- Mel Blanc, Billy West- are the best, because all anyone hears in their performances is Bugs Bunny or Stimpy.
But everyone gives a good performance here; the voices were smartly cast. Owen Wilson makes for the perfect slacker turkey, while the dulcet tones of George Takei are perfectly tuned towards a snarky time machine. The best performance of all comes from Dan Fogler as pilgrim Governor Bradford. Fogler’s worked with Director Jimmy Hayward time and time again, and it’s a smart move. He’s got that elastic voice made for cartoons that allows him to create truly unique characters on screen.
It’s certainly not breaking any ground, but Free Birds gives you – or at least your kids – the Thanksgiving cartoon you didn’t know you’ve been waiting for.