In Free Birds, director and co-writer Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!) aims to serve a new favorite for the occasion by telling a Thanksgiving story from the viewpoint of the traditional entree. But the execution proves far from perfect.
As a source of big-screen inspiration, Thanksgiving has always been the awkward middle child between the scares of Halloween and the values lessons of Christmas.
Although the holiday has yielded a few keepers — as in Planes, Trains and Automobiles — the saying of thanks and stuffing of faces don’t generally lend themselves to gripping cinema.
In Free Birds, director and co-writer Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!) aims to serve a new favorite for the occasion by telling a Thanksgiving story from the viewpoint of the traditional entree.
But the execution proves far from perfect.
Owen Wilson voices Reggie, a smarter-than-average turkey at a family farm. His understanding of the fate that awaits turkeys after they’re fattened up makes him an outcast among the less-aware gobblers. By chance, Reggie is spared from the dinner table through the annual presidential turkey pardon.
He briefly enjoys the perks of delivery pizza and TV on demand at Camp David before he is whisked away by a larger, stupider turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson), who enlists Reggie on a mission: travel back through time to change the menu at the first Thanksgiving, thereby saving the lives of countless turkeys.
In a time machine named S.T.E.V.E. (George Takei, the movie’s one reliable source of humor), Reggie and Jake return to the 17th century and join a group of their intelligent, productive progenitors in trying to save turkeys from a settlement of starving Pilgrims.
The movie does feature some moments when Free Birds achieves the right level of comic mania and picks up hints of the extreme visual style of animation great Tex Avery.
Mostly, though, the film consists of overly broad comedy, bland exposition and stale plot points — including the introduction of a plucky love interest (Amy Poehler) for Reggie.
Worse are a massive hole in the story’s logic and some uninformed allusions to Native American genocide.
Anyone looking for holiday-appropriate family entertainment this year would be better off sticking with a DVD or TV airing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.