We’ve seen the history of Thanksgiving depicted from the perspective of the pilgrims and the Native Americans. Why not examine it from the point-of-view of the turkey?
That’s the idea behind Free Birds, an energetic 3D animated comedy aimed at children with short attention spans that won’t exactly allow them to cheat on their history tests.
At least there’s a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer to that effect at the beginning of this wildly unfocused adventure that features some clever throwaway gags but winds up mostly as a case of sensory overload. It won’t become a holiday classic anytime soon.
The whirlwind story starts in the present day, where Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) is an outcast among his gobbling peers for his wild conspiracy theories about turkeys being fattened with corn so they can be eaten by humans. Through a stroke of luck, he is spared that fate when the daughter of the president of the United States selects him to receive the ceremonial holiday turkey pardon.
That good fortune lands Reggie in a life of luxury at the presidential retreat at Camp David, until he is kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), a bumbling turkey freedom fighter who has access to a talking time machine named Steve (George Takei).
Then the mismatched duo is transported back to the 17th century Massachusetts, where Reggie meets an obligatory love interest (Amy Poehler) and joins a team of guerrilla turkeys who must fight to keep themselves off the menu at the first Thanksgiving, thus sparing turkeys everywhere.
The goal of director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!) seems to be keeping the pace as fast as possible and fill every frame with slapstick action and quick-hitting jokes so the target audience doesn’t become distracted.
The animation is moderately crisp and colorful, with few sequences making worthwhile use of the 3D capability. The amusing voice cast seems to have fun with the material.
The script is a bizarre mix of disparate ideas that seem thrown together without much regard for narrative logic. It’s a promising concept that yields some scattered big laughs. Along the way, there are half-hearted lessons about acceptance, teamwork and vegetarianism.
It’s too easy and not entirely accurate to call the film a turkey. Yet after watching Free Birds, it’s doubtful many youngsters will forgo these angry birds in favor of a Thanksgiving meal of side dishes and gravy.
Rated PG, 91 minutes.