Film Review: Free Birds

by Chad Liffmann on November 1, 2013

“Free Birds” is a surprising, scattered, Thanksgiving treat.

Jake (Woody Harrelson) slaps some comedy sense into Reggie (Owen Wilson)

Jake (Woody Harrelson) slaps some comedy sense into Reggie (Owen Wilson)

Yes, this is a movie about turkeys.  It’s not a spin-off adaptation of the mobile game, Angry Birds.  Free Birds is not the strongest title, it lacks punch.  Free Birds also hasn’t benefited from a strong and focused marketing campaign.  The reason for this — Free Birds is wacky and crosses multiple genres, and even includes some very surprising plot twists.  Yet, its filled with original humor and employs an extremely playful attitude with perfectly timed editing to create a funny and thoroughly entertaining family film.

Free Birds is NOT a fish-out-of-water story, nor is it an underdog story, per se.  This thematic formula seemed to always be the winning (though extremely redundant) formula for kids/family movies and Free Birds’ departure from the norm is extremely refreshing.  There are moments in the beginning of the film where Reggie (Owen Wilson), a turkey that knows the morbid truth about Thanksgiving feasts, is the odd one out.  Reggie tries to inform the rest of the farm flock about their fate.  But quickly, Reggie is whisked away in a surprise turn of events, then finds himself a party to an even more strange turn of events…all leading up, basically, to an Avatar-esque battle to “get turkeys off the menu,” as the film’s subtitle goes.  You read that correctly — I compared Free Birds to Avatar.  Watching the trailer really won’t tell you much about the story, though it’ll try.  In fact, I won’t even go into much plot here, because I actually don’t want to spoil anything should you decide to go see it (no matter what I say, keep your expectations low.  It’ll probably help).

Free Birds director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears A Who, Jonah Hex), who is also credited as a Free Birds writer and actor, does a fine job of ensuring that Free Birds never lags.  It flies through at an incredibly brisk pace, focusing more on humor than heart, though there’s still a shred of the latter, too.  The timings of the jokes are perfect.  I found myself laughing out loud in a few instances, including at a quip about cranberry sauce and also constant references to the well-known fact that turkeys are, well, dumb.  Macho turkey-on-a-mission, Jake (an impecably casted Woody Harrelson), provides many of these great moments.  The talented voice cast consists of Wilson and Harrelson, along with Amy Poehler, George Takei, Keith David, Dan Fogler, and others, each of them playing to their vocal strengths. Their voices, though recognizable, aren’t distracting.

But let’s be frank — there’s little chance that many people over the age of ten ever planned to see Free Birds, if they’d even heard of it.  Sometimes the titles that will surprise you the most are the ones that you wrote off early.  Sometimes.  Free Birds is far from perfect.  It’s far from being a good movie, too.  The finale may even rub adults the wrong way, including some moments that tip-toe around being offensive and a subsequent departing message that sort of misses the mark.  Nevertheless, kids will eat it up…and then they’ll possibly question our carnivorous ways (parents, you ready for that?).  However, when it comes to finding a short, simple, fun movie that asks nothing of the audience except to have a good chuckle and leave with a smile, Free Birds serves that purpose.

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Free Birds opens in Bay Area theaters today, November 1, 2013.

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