Screened Out – Free Birds

By : Stephen Miller
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Voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, George Takei, Amy Poehler

Ready to talk turkey? There are very few successful animated flicks about Thanksgiving, ones that can find their way to be played ad nauseum on some basement DVD while the adults upstairs watch the parade and football. Free Birds attempts to change all that with a light, breezy, time-travel ‘toon that actually works for the entire family.

That’s not to say this dish is very deep. It’s fun, airy, and “in the vein of many newer cartoons” stuffed full of pop culture references and absurdity. This tale warns us right at the beginning that this isn’t historically accurate; except for the talking turkeys.

Wilson plays a prescient bird on a free-range farm; he tries to warn the other birds “idiots, all of them” that they’re being fattened up for a slaughter. No one listens. In fact, they throw Wilson out to some invaders “the US President has come to pardon the annual turkey, and Wilson gets the honor of going to Camp David with the First Family. While there, he meets a rogue crazy tom turkey (brilliantly voiced by Harrelson). This pair stumbles upon a time travel experiment that affords them the opportunity to go back in history to the first meeting of the pilgrims and the local indigenous tribe and stop the idea of Thanksgiving turkey forever.

(By the way, the Hal-like voice of the time machine is LGBT activist George Takei, Sulu from the original Star Trek. The machine is, of course, shaped like a giant egg.)

Amy Poehler is the poultry's sultry love interest.

Amy Poehler is the poultry’s sultry love interest.

Everything here is fast and furious. None of it makes a lot of sense, but it’s clever and always entertaining. Most of the characters “including Wilson’s” lack strong arc or defining characteristics, and the villains are merely evil buffoons.

The pace and the machinations of the plot are actually pretty clever. Free Birds knows time travel flicks are impossible, and it has fun with that idea. It also ladles up some interesting twists. The colors are all autumnal, as if the artists’ palettes were informed by Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving painting.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

What this film lacks “besides a sound basis in science (and, really, with personified poultry, who cares about reality?)” is complexity. There is no personal struggle (like Marlin’s in Finding Nemo) or overarching theme (like the universality of The Lion King).

Unless the animators are all trying to make us vegans. Then, Free Birds and others like Babe, Bambi, and Finding Nemo are trying to steer us all away from meat… delicious, tasty meat.

That’s probably giving Free Birds more credit than it deserves. It’s merely a goofy comedy for the kids to gobble up, a serving that will also keep us adults satiated.

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