There’s always an issue with movies about things such as American Football and Thanksgiving. While you can see why they’d be popular in the US, they don’t always travel well, as most other countries don’t have those traditions. That’s particularly true with family films, as many youngsters won’t even know what Thanksgiving is.
Free Birds seems to have realised this though, so that while non-US youngsters won’t get the nuance of the founding fathers and why turkeys are the preferred meal, it does at least make sure it sets out the basics so they won’t be completely lost.
Reggie (Owen Wilson) is a turkey living farm, although he’s not happy there, partly because captivity has made all the other birds insanely dumb. When he’s accidentally chosen as the bird who is pardoned by the President on Thanksgiving, he can’t believe his luck. However that’s only the start of his adventure, as he’s soon dragged along by another turkey, Jake (Woody Harrelson), who tells him they can stop their feathered friends being the meal of choice on Thanksgiving.
To do that they have to go back in time – something Reggie thinks is ridiculous until he and Reggie are on-board a time machine (which has the very welcome voice of George Takei) and travelling back to the newly settled Plymouth colony in 1621. The colonists are struggling for survival and a brace of dead turkeys would certainly help sort out their hunger. The native, undomesticated birds are determined that this won’t happen, but without Reggie and Jake’s help, they’ll become the bird of choice for Thanksgiving dinner for the next 400 years.
Free Birds is a bit of a bizarre concoction that has so many ideas it isn’t sure what to do with them. Indeed there are times when it feels a little like a particularly frenetic hallucination. While by no means a great CGI family flick, its pace and colour should keep the kids quiet for 90 minutes. Unfortunately that’s not too much of a compliment as while it flies by, it’s not particularly funny (indeed some of the jokes are astonishingly lame) and a lot of it doesn’t actually make much sense. Even so it just about pulls itself through purely because it never spends more than about 15 seconds doing anything – which is perhaps as much a liability as a bonus.
Some may also feel uneasy about the fact the 16th Century turkeys are presented as hippie-dippy Native Americans, with a depiction that verges on the insulting, especially when you consider the movie suggests modern turkeys are domesticated idiots. But that’s the problem with the movie – it’s so busy trying to be bright, colourful and frenetic that it doesn’t really think through what it’s doing.
Overall Verdict: Mildly amusing, a little bizarre and incredibly fast-paced – to the point of being filmic ADD – Free Birds might keep the kids attention for a while, but it’s difficult to imagine them wanting to watch it repeatedly.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac