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With: (voices) Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David, Dan Fogler, Jimmy Hayward, Kaitlyn Maher, Carlos Alazraqui
Written by: Jimmy Hayward, Scott Mosier, based on a story by David I. Stern, John J. Strauss
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
MPAA Rating: PG for some action/peril and rude humor
Running Time: 91
Date: 11/01/2013

Free Birds (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fowl Play

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Free Birds comes from the hand of director Jimmy Hayward, who brought us the wonderful Horton Hears a Who! (2008), and then made his live action debut with the terrible Jonah Hex (2010). I've heard tell through Hollywood lore that the latter wasn't entirely his fault; it was re-edited by others and turned into the hunk o' junk it is today. Now he has gone back to animation, and the result, Free Birds, falls more or less in-between the two previous efforts. It has some of the good instincts of the former, and some of the bad instincts of the latter.

Even weirder, Hayward's co-writer is Scott Mosier, who is better known as a longtime collaborator with Kevin Smith, although rarely as a writer. His main credit to date is on the "Clerks" animated TV series.

In the movie, Owen Wilson provides the voice of Reggie, a turkey of above-average intelligence (relatively speaking) who becomes the President's annual pardon at Thanksgiving time. (For some reason, the President is given a gravelly Southern accent not dissimilar to Bill Clinton's.) Somehow, the pardoned turkey gets the run of Camp David, ordering pizzas and watching TV to his heart's content.

That is, until Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson) comes along. Jake is some kind of spy turkey whose big plan is to use a time machine to travel back to the first Thanksgiving and stop turkey from being on the menu. (In one of the movie's wiser decisions, the time machine is voiced by George Takei.) Once in the past, Reggie falls for a cute girl turkey called Jenny (voiced by Amy Poehler).

Jenny and her people are constantly under attack by a villainous Myles Standish (voiced by Colm Meaney). (Since when is Myles Standish a bad guy?) So the turkeys try to destroy all the weapons in the fort.

Since Hayward came from Pixar, it's not too surprising that the movie looks professional enough, though it's not dazzling like the best animated movies these days are. It contains a few laughs, but it's not hilarious. And though the characters are likable enough, it's unlikely you'll want to remember them and buy their toys at Christmastime.

I suppose it would have been nice for the plot to be a little richer... I mean... I like turkey at Thanksgiving time, and I was hoping for the settlers to survive and actually have dinner with the Native Americans. The movie doesn't have much of an argument there. Also, it would have been nice for the movie to have a decent villain. The settlers are shown as either evil or naïve or greedy (one fat guy is in charge of guarding the food and -- this is hilarious -- eats it when no one is looking). The Native Americans barely come into it, as if the filmmakers couldn't quite figure out how they fit the conflict.

So what I'm saying is that Free Birds isn't exactly a feast, nor is it a famine. I guess it's about the equivalent of having a bowl of cereal for dinner. At least the turkeys wouldn't mind.

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