Free Birds solves one of life’s great dilemmas by finally, finally granting us that animated flick about time-traveling turkeys, which we’ve dreamt of since Muybridge first filmed that horse more than 140 years ago.
Rest easy, fellow moviegoers: The long, national nightmare is over. Multiplexes across the land will starting this very day welcome perplexed children and bemused parents to the story of Reg (Owen Wilson) and Jake (Woody Harrelson), who waddle inside a time-traveling egg and set their sights on 1621, where generations of turkeys depend on the menu for the first Thanksgiving being changed. There, they join forces with a heroic band of counterparts living in an underground utopia who fight a defensive war against the starving Plymouth settlers.
If I’m being a bit sarcastic here, if the world really didn’t need to be granted this great gift of 90 minutes spent with heroic turkeys, one can take solace in the fact that this is one of the strangest and most unlikely family entertainments in a long, long time. That’s not a bad thing, even with gratuitous Chuck E. Cheese’s product placement and a message that’s likely to make it oh so much harder for little Jimmy to eat that Thanksgiving meal. When so many movies geared toward children are molded and shaped just-so, tested and fiddled with to the point of irrelevance, it’s a small miracle to find one that actively embraces being weird.
And there’s plenty of weirdness: Macho turkeys suddenly ballroom dancing; others floating in that magical egg (called Steve, naturally) high above the earth; flashbacks to adolescence in a hellish factory; a turkey ordering pizza and squawking with excitement; a heroic lady turkey voiced by Amy Poehler giving an inspirational militaristic speech. That’s not even to mention the all-powerful being deemed the “Great Turkey,” who appears in the sky as a heavenly beacon sending young Jake on his way.
It’s the kind of movie one imagines would play better on drugs, but even stone cold sober Free Birds offers one eye-rubbing, WTF moment after another. Is this some sort of Native American-settlers allegory that’s commenting on continued racial strife in America? Is this a cinematic apologia for centuries of horrendous treatment? Or, is it funded by a secret cabal of vegetarians, aimed at eradicating the poultry industry for good? Who knows?
Whatever this curio’s larger aim might be, one thing is clear: It might not offer Pixar-level brilliance in terms of storytelling or themes, but it’s never, ever boring. The ads promise that Free Birds is the “greatest turkey movie ever made,” and they’re not lying (sorry Thankskilling franchise).
So, am I really recommending that you run out and plunk down some hard earned cash for a movie that is, once again, about time-traveling turkeys? Not exactly. But I’m not sorry I did. If for no other reason, you could justify seeing it so that one day you can tell your children and grandchildren that yes, I saw that time-traveling turkeys movie in theaters. That really happened.
The Upside: It’s a movie about time-traveling turkeys for goodness sake. What more do you need?
The Downside: I don’t think Chuck E. Cheese’s delivers pizza, but whatever. It’s a movie about time-traveling turkeys.
On the Side: This movie is probably going to perplex a lot of people, so full disclosure, you probably shouldn’t actually see it unless the premise sounds as hilariously bizarre to you as it clearly did to me.