"Free Birds" Should Be Locked Away and Never Seen Again Review

Basic truth: every animation company, whether it’s independent or under the umbrella of a major studio like Sony or Fox, considers each property it produces as a possible franchise until the box office tells them whether or not that’s a good idea. Mercifully, sometimes audiences get it right and simply don’t give the animated property in question enough money to earn itself a sequel, and that was exactly how things should have and did play out for Free Birds. With all its unfunny gags and obvious attempts at mimicking the trends of more successful recent animated features, Free Birds feels tired from the first ten minutes (of which the funniest part was revealed in trailers) and it never recovers. It stumbles, falls, and then a weird time travel plot and some really bad running jokes pull its exhausted corpse through the next 80 minutes in an experience that will be excruciating for parents and boring for kids. Even at their worst, franchises like Shrek and Ice Age were miles above the subpar offerings of Free Birds, even if it does manage to include time travel which is usually an automatic plus in my book.

Pardoned by the present, Reggie (Owen Wilson), seemingly one of the only turkeys smart enough to realize the Thanksgiving is a mass slaughter of his kind, receives a pass to the easy life of pizza and television. His life of luxury is unfortunately interrupted by macho turkey Jake (Woody Harrelson), who kidnaps Reggie after having been convinced as a child by “the Great Turkey” that he has a solemn duty to save all of turkey-kind from their annual genocide. Jake and Reggie break into a secret facility where they board a time machine and travel back to the first Thanksgiving where Jake hopes to correct history and prevent turkeys from being made the traditional meal of choice. At which point, a Dances With Wolves/Avatar/Pocahontas story kicks in and both Reggie and Jake find themselves just as invested in the lives of the first Thanksgiving-era turkeys as in their mission.

Maybe it’s because the plot is so strange and the humor fails to land that the film fails to draw its audience in, but Free Birds was the first animated film in a long time where the voices were actually distracting. That’s typically a symptom of the mind wandering during a film, giving the audience time to think about what they’re seeing and hearing as opposed to being enraptured by the story, and it ultimately dooms Free Birds to being a forgettable animated film. That’s a shame, too, because a cast of Wilson, Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Keith David, and George Takei is a fantastically capable one deserving of a story and humor that makes us value their performances instead of being hung up on their voices. Sadly, the story and jokes just aren’t there.

What is there are jokes, like a painfully bad lazy eye gag, that really don’t work the first time (only to then get repeated every 10 minutes) or gags that almost immediately seem like an attempt to imitate the slapstick-ish success of Despicable Me’s minions only to then lack any of the same heart or comic timing (save for one instance). With every failed joke that further alienates us from a high-concept time travel story, Free Birds becomes increasing hard to watch and makes us start to long for the many animated films that manage to do it right.

That wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve already been given very funny films about animals trying to overthrow the humans that would harvest/kill them, like Chicken Run or The Fantastic Mr. Fox. What does it say when two stop-motion animation films, the production of which takes vastly more time to create than their CGI counterparts, also seem to have put more time into their scripts? For one it makes Free Birds look incredibly lazy. Secondly, it makes us realize just how much better those films are in retrospect. So, for that, Free Birds, thanks.

Speaking of which, why isn’t Chicken Run on Blu-ray yet?

Blu-ray Bonus Features

This Blu-ray and DVD combo pack includes an Ultraviolet digital copy and featurettes like the animators’ process, the history of human-turkey relations, the film’s music, and the film’s animation.

"Free Birds" is on sale February 4, 2014 and is rated PG. Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Comedy. Directed by Jimmy Hayward. Written by Scott Mosier, Jimmy Hayward. Starring Amy Poehler, George Takei, Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson.

Feb
28
2014
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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