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Turkey movie ‘Free Birds’ doesn’t fly

10/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

“Free Birds” will hit movie theaters Nov. 1.
Photo courtesy of Relativity Media
The animated Thanksgiving film “Free Birds” tries an odd gambit. It pits turkeys against starving Pilgrims and wants us to root for the former. The turkeys are cute and voiced by some very likable actors, but I can’t say I was in the front row of their cheering section.

Turkeys, the movie tells us, are stupid creatures. To them, every object, including the sun, is corn. When turkeys are taken away by their “best friend,” the farmer, they believe they are on their way to Turkey Paradise. Like the carousel ridden by the 30-year-old characters in “Logan’s Run,” the pleasures of Turkey Paradise may be a bit oversold.

There is one turkey whose IQ is not in single digits. Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) knows what fate awaits him and his fattened brethren, but he can find no believers among the flock. Fortunately for him, he is one lucky bird. Rather than ending up on a CorningWare serving platter, he falls into a life of leisure. Thanks to intervention by some powerful people, his days are now comprised of pizza and TV, both in generous, unhealthy portions.

But soon, Reggie’s life is upended, and what had been a pleasantly innocuous movie careens from silliness to dark humor to attempts at real emotion. The film, directed and co-written by Jimmy Hayward, never really regains its footing, but the scattershot approach leads to some moments that work.

Reggie is recruited/birdnapped by a loony warrior turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson), who is on a mission to remove his kind from the Thanksgiving menu. Shades of Doctor Who, he steals a time machine, and he and Reggie take off to New England 1621, arriving three days before the first Thanksgiving celebration. It’s a dinner the pilgrims are literally dying to have — in one misguided scene played for laughs, we see an elderly settler keel over from starvation and/or illness.

Jake and Reggie discover that the 17th-century turkeys, unlike their bird brain descendants, are a resourceful and hardworking lot. Led by Chief Broadbeak (Keith David), the turkeys have carved out a life for themselves away from the pilgrims and out of harm’s way. In fact, they would have been just fine if Jake and Reggie had never intervened, though that would have meant Cupid’s arrow would not have found Reggie and the chief’s spunky daughter, Jenny (Amy Poehler).

The scenes with the two lovebirds are sweet, and it’s fun when they hop on board the time machine. (George Takei, Mr. Sulu of “Star Trek,” lends his distinctive voice to the machine.) Less enjoyable — intentionally — is a flashback scene where we see factory-farmed turkeys stuffed in dreary, cramped cells. Expect it to provoke questions from young ones as to the origin of their holiday meal.

But maybe this is a movie that wants to initiate discussion. I had to ask the person sitting next to me to explain the after-the-credits tag, which references an unusual turkey dish. I’ll go out on a limb and say that a large majority of the movie’s intended audience won’t understand it, either. Always leave ’em wondering, I suppose.

The movie, which opens Nov. 1, is rated PG for some action/peril and rude humor.

Two Stars (out of four)


Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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