Turkey was the hero of Thanksgiving. A staple of the Native American diet, it was one of the local dishes that may have literally saved the Pilgrim settlers in 1621. But the new animated film “Free Birds, which is aimed clearly at younger viewers, wants to change history and take turkey off the menu. Not since “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” has history been so perverted in a shameless attempt to bring in the green backs.
“Free Birds” is a tongue-in-cheek revisionist romp that never seems to find its satirical footing. The story has the nerdy string-bean turkey Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) journeying from his dismissive flock to Camp David because he’s been pardoned by the President. As a part of the Administration, Reggie settles into a routine of telenovellas and pizza. One night, he’s kidnapped by Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson), a loopy turkey on a mission to save his fellow brethren from the dinner table. Jake and Reggie discover a top secret government time machine named S.T.E.V.E. (voice of George Takei), which enables them travel back to 1621 for the first Thanksgiving.
Being ridiculous is no excuse for lazy writing. While “Free Birds” is punched up by adequate animation and the ubiquitous 3D gimmick, the weakest part of the film is the story. The writers just can’t make the weird Thanksgiving themed idea work without perverting history and glossing over the serious purpose for consuming the birds in the first place. What could have been a wacky animated take on “Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure” turns into one “Bogus Journey.” And, at one point, it seems the filmmaker and his writing team give up as things in the movie get downright foolish when the turkeys take to the battlefield and engage the settlers. Weak attempts to build any kind of pathos into the plight of both the turkeys and the starving settlers fall flat as events are cheaply resolved in an overly simplistic fashion.
And what about historical fact? Well, let’s not kid ourselves, narrative features are a poor way to teach history. But when you’re dealing with kids, it helps to be somewhat responsible in the way historical events are handled. In this case, the writers hardly intended to pervert history to any damaging degree, but in not being the least bit clever in fictionalizing events from the past, they have given us a movie that is indistinguishable from the usual animated fare that can be seen daily on television in half hour bursts.
Perhaps the best that can be said of “Free Birds” is that it makes the turkey the hero of Thanksgiving once again. It’s just too bad that the film is written as though viewers have only bird brains.