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"FREE BIRDS"
(2013) (voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: Two turkeys travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving to change the menu.
PLOT:
Reggie (voice of OWEN WILSON) is a free-thinking turkey who tries to warn the other birds on his farm that they are being fattened up for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. But they won't listen. Amazingly, he is picked to be the one turkey the U.S. President spares each year as part of the White House's holiday tradition. He goes to live at Camp David as the pet of the Commander in Chief's daughter and soon discovers the joys of remote-control TV and ordering pizza.

Then, one day, he is nabbed by a rogue turkey named Jake (voice of WOODY HARRELSON) who tells him there is a secret government time machine dubbed S.T.E.V.E. (voice of GEORGE TAKEI) on the grounds of the Presidential retreat and that they must jump in it, travel back to the first Thanksgiving, and stop turkey from being on the menu. Once back there, they encounter a tribe of much smarter turkeys led by Chief Broadbeak (voice of KEITH DAVID); his militaristic son, Ranger (voice of JIMMY HAYWARD); and his good-hearted daughter, Jenny (voice of AMY POEHLER).

They are hunted by Captain Myles Standish (voice of COLM MEANEY) and his men, who are looking to gather food for the increasingly desperate settlers in their charge who are nearing starvation. He is pressured by the shifty Governor Bradford (voice of DAN FOGLER) who lords over the dwindling stockpile of food, knowing the dangers of the approaching winter.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
OK, full disclosure right up front, dear readers. I love Thanksgiving. I flat-out love it. It's my favorite holiday. I love everything about it. The fact that it's always on a Thursday, that it's part of a four-day weekend, that it officially kicks off the Christmas season each year. I love the Macy's parade. I love the football games. I love the family traditions -- new and old. I love that you don't have to give anyone gifts. And, as Americans, I love that we can all share in it.

Most of all? I love the TURKEY! Oh, yes, indeed. Wonderful, yummy, scrumptious, fresh-baked, basted, roasted, gamey, crispy, tender, newly slaughtered turkey! I look at that bird every year on the platter and the first thing I say is, "That thang was alive just a few days ago!" Heck, I'm eating some turkey right now while I'm writing this. So, you might say I was genetically pre-disposed to pan a movie like "Free Birds," in which two turkeys named Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson) and Jake (voice of Woody Harrelson) travel back in time to stop the first Thanksgiving and change the menu of everyone's favorite November holiday forever. To that I say ... GET THE FLOCK OUTTA HERE WITH THAT NONSENSE!

Fortunately for me as a reputable critic (cue the laughter sign), this is also a bad movie on its own terms that will be fairly easy to carve up. The film's chief failure is it doesn't convince the viewer that the protagonists -- the turkeys -- are right. Even if they stop turkeys from being the main course on the annual Thanksgiving menu, that doesn't stop their kind from making onto menus period. Pardon my inner Bubba Blue coming out, but there's still turkey sandwiches, turkey burgers, turkey chili, turkey soup, turkey loaves, turkey pot pie, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, and so forth.

Second, the main course that the turkeys and the filmmakers ultimately push the bird off the platter in favor of is -- and I'm not kidding here -- pizza! And that's just wrong on so many levels, from a health standpoint to the fact that the Pilgrims and Native Americans at the time would have no way of duplicating the ingredients and cooking requirements of these pies.

Third ... uh, here's a little factoid for ya. Turkey was only a part of the first Thanksgiving. Also served was venison, fish, and even lobster. If the turkeys really wanted to stop their annual slaughter, they should have gone back to 1863 and stopped Abraham Lincoln from first proclaiming it a national holiday. They should have beat John Wilkes Booth to the theater by two years!

In show biz, they say never work with animals or kids. Similarly, in the film review business, one of the warnings is to beware reviewing movies with lots of kids in the audience. Well, I love watching flicks with kids around me. Why? Because they are the purest critics they are. If you listen to the little darlings in between their parents "Shush!"-ing them and trying to keep them in their seats, they will pinpoint every logic flaw a flick like this has.

Consequently, I can't take full credit for just a few of the logic gaps I will point out here. First and foremost, Reggie, Jake, and the other turkeys in "Free Birds" are WAY too smart. Now, of course, I buy in animated movies that animals, critters, and even inanimate objects can talk, act, and react like human beings. But there has to be limits and rules. The great thing about, say, the "Toy Story" characters were they were smart within their own little world. The same held true for the "Madagascar" animals. In both series of films, the characters met with real danger and confusion when thrust out into the scary real world just beyond their boundaries and confines.

The turkeys in this movie are unbelievably intelligent. They can order pizzas, operate TV remote controls, form underground societies, and mount military campaigns. But how? In cutaways to the humans, it's clear they can only hear them going gobble, gobble, gobble. So, one kid seated close to me correctly pointed out ... how does the pizza man understand them? Another kid nearby had a second excellent point. How does the time machine understand Reggie and Jake's commands? Yes, the two main birds climb in a secret government time vehicle hidden at Camp David (Reggie is the turkey the U.S. President spares just prior to the holiday). So, are we to believe that the federal government has invented a time machine AND programmed it to understand the language of ... turkeys?! The feds can't even get the HealthCare.gov website to work properly!

So, to recap, at no time in the movie was I on the side of the main bird characters (the human Pilgrims are, of course, portrayed as ugly, unkempt, uncaring, blood-thirsty hunters). And at no time did I logically believe this movie. Yup, you guessed it, folks. This one's a turkey! I give it a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 26, 2013 / Posted November 1, 2013


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