Apparently turkeys are pretty damn funny. At least when they’re in the hands of the right people. Director Jimmy Hayward seems to have interesting taste, starting in film as an animator for Pixar before directing Horton Hears a Who! and Jonah Hex. He is credited with the screenplay alongside, even more bizarrely, Kevin Smith collaborator Scott Mosier, who was also producer. As you can probably guess, Free Birds isn’t really your standard children’s animation. Instead it flutters between quirky and laugh-out-loud moments without really caring how ridiculous it looks. To be fair, it’s a film about turkeys who go back in time to stop Thanksgiving, so it was always going to be silly. Throw in some big names, like Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson, and you’re going to get something worth watching. Lucky too, as Reel FX have done a remarkably last-century job as far as animation goes, and the story from David Stern and John Strauss really doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, the filmography of these parties peaks at Open Season 2.
I really doubt the film would have worked without the solid leads it has, as they lend some form of credibility to the characters. Wilson is the hapless hero Reggie, a loner turkey who’s intelligence separates him from the flock. After a silly twist of fate, which sees him living it up at the Whitehouse, he is kidnapped by Harrelson’s Jake, on a mission to get turkeys off the menu. Shenanigans at a secret base see them end up in 1621 before (debatably) the first Thanksgiving, where turkeys are more advanced, but living in fear of the hungry Plymouth settlement. Jake and Reggie’s attempts to integrate into the community are perhaps the funniest parts of the movie. Jake tussles with would-be alpha male Ranger, voiced by the director, to hilarious effect, and Reggie tries to hit it off with the Chief’s daughter Jenny, Amy Poehler. It all ends happily though, with plenty of pizza and a blatant disregard for time travel conventions.
Sadly no Lynryrd Skynyrd features on the soundtrack, despite the film’s name. It also ends with the worst version of Up Around the Bend committed to tape, yes it’s by Social Distortion, but it’s not worth whatever they paid for it. In fact, the film barely managed to recoup its $55 million production costs during its domestic run. Despite its flaws, however, Free Birds is fun and totally lovable. Just don’t expect anything too serious. Although, there is a surprisingly moving funeral scene which may even draw a tear. The upside is I haven’t seen a children’s movie this funny in a long time, and it works because of its off-the-wall sense of humour and knowingly dumb premise. According to the poster this is “the greatest turkey movie of all time,” and honestly it’s hard to disagree.