Directed by Jimmy Hayward
November 1, 2013 (USA)
Two very different turkeys team up and use time travel to try and keep their species off the menu during Thanksgiving.
This is a rare film indeed. How you ask? It is about Thanksgiving. I do not think there are many Thanksgiving centric films out there let alone many Thanksgiving centric family friendly animated features. It is just not done because honestly there is not a real market for it. Some horror schlock exists but unlike Christmas or Halloween which have produced innumerable tie-ins each year, Thanksgiving has only received a smattering here and there.
There are no really huge names in the cast, but they are known figures and are all well cast actors and serve their parts well. I think my personal favorite among them is George Takei as S.T.E.V.E. (Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy) the intelligence that controls the egg-shaped time machine. He is perhaps the most perfect for his role based on his voice alone. S.T.E.V.E. is a little haughty and a touch condescending.
Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) is the central character of the story. He is a domesticated turkey that was saved during the traditional presidential pardon that gets swept into the scheme of Jake (a delightfully deranged Woody Harrelson) who is the leader of the Turkey Freedom Front (T.F.F.). He has been on a mission for most of his life at the behest of the Great Turkey to change the Thanksgiving menu. Amy Poehler is Reggie’s love interest and wild turkey Jenny, the distinctively voiced Colm Meaney is Miles Standish, and Keith David is Chief Broadbeak and they round out the larger names of the cast.
This film is Trek heavy in the cast. Aside from Takei who played Sulu in TOS and the animated series as well as the original films and Colm Meaney who was Miles O’Brien, we have Robert Beltran who played Chakotay on Voyager here voicing Chief Massasoit. The perception is these actors enter a career dead end by joining that franchise, but they often continue to work in various capacities.
This film benefits from the creative minds not taking the material too seriously. And by that I mean they just have fun. They use time travel and they just decide to play around. Causality be damned! The basis of the plot behind the beginning, middle, and end of this movie is a Mobius loop where the beginning is caused by the ending but if you follow the story it doesn’t work logically but this is a cartoon so don’t think too hard. This is a straight up comedy aimed at making the audience laugh.
The humor is just stupid humor. They go for the laugh. I think one of the better ones concerns the trashy telenovela that Reggie is addicted too that provides the basis for his life philosophy. If you have ever seen one of those then you know the whole set up of the fake show is pretty spot on.
The film in general takes gentle pokes at the holiday and makes silly cultural references to entertain the adults. The kids will probably not get that the president (Jimmy Hayward) is a softened parody of Bill Clinton or perhaps miss the joke about the turducken, but they will laugh at things like S.T.E.V.E. adjusting the seat for Jake’s butt or when the turkeys are attacking the fort and catapult flaming pumpkins with one Indian stating “Those are some angry birds.” We even get a few Thanksgiving jokes. “Sir, how do we address this?” “With cranberry sauce” The jokes come steady here in a well-paced story.
The story does nothing risqué for a family feature. They play it safe with messages about togetherness and family and maybe-just maybe-not following the group mentality as exemplified by Reggie being the contrarian with his incessant attempts to educate his flock at the beginning of the film on the realities of their situation. We might even be getting a push for going meatless since pizza replaces turkey on the Thanksgiving menu.
This is more or less an American version of Chicken Run with time travel added to make it a little different. At least the beginning of the film follows many of the same beats before S.T.E.V.E. enters the picture.
Free Birds is a great family friendly Thanksgiving feature which will entertain children as well as adults. There are plenty of jokes wrapped in a silly and entertaining story. Watch it!