'Free Birds' Movie Review - Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson  | Movie Reviews Site

Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson

"Free Birds" Movie Review: 1 1/2 Stars

by Roger Moore

"Free Birds" is more proof, as if 2013 needed it, that Hollywood has almost killed the animated goose that laid the golden egg.

No matter that in this case the goose is a turkey.

You didn't need to be told that. But a year that has produced the clever and heartfelt "The Croods" and the passably amusing "Despicable Me 2" has also had a healthy dose of sausage factory about it. "Epic," "Monsters University," "Planes," "Escape from Planet Earth," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" and "Turbo" -- all major pictures that hint at a talent pool spread absurdly thin and an industry with sneering contempt for its audience.

A startup division called Reflex Animation did "Free Birds," and Relativity is releasing it. They make the same mistakes that generations of animators made before them: having a cute idea and a feeble script, then lining up a "name" voice cast to overcompensate.

Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler and George Takei -- funny folks, one and all. Yet there's barely a laugh in it.

Wilson voices Reggie, a scrawny Jeremiah at his turkey farm, the one guy to figure out why he and his flock are being fattened up. "Turkeys are dumb," he narrates as his peers clap, while friends and family are dragged off to "turkey paradise."

But Reggie is that lucky bird who wins a presidential pardon. The gag writers thought it would be cute to make this Southern president with a bratty daughter Clintonian. Hellooo, 1996.

Reggie has barely settled in to a pampered life of pizzas and TV watching at Camp David when the demented Jake (Harrelson) shows up to bird-nap him and enlist Reggie in his mission: to steal the secret Camp David time machine, travel back to early America and change Thanksgiving history "to get turkey off the menu."

In 1621 Plymouth, the Pilgrims are starving, save for the portly Gov. Bradford (Dan Fogler). Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) is a trigger-happy menace who figures he can turkey-hunt the colony to safety.

And the Massachusetts turkeys themselves? They're natives, as in painted up, like Washington Redskins mascots. Jake and Reggie must win over the native flock (Poehler and Keith David among them) to save them and turkeys of the future.

The few gags there are seem borrowed from better, earlier films: short-attention-span turkeys inspired by Dory of "Finding Nemo," "Braveheart" battle scenes, mismatched "buddies" from a hundred better buddy comedies.

The odd throwaway line works. The president's daughter is a 6-year-old blabbermouth who blurts out to Reggie that this general "has issues" and that an overweight maid "eats her feelings." And Gov. Bradford is forever minimizing his responsibility for the dying colonists.

But the sight gags fall flat, and much of the screenplay seems like a rough draft that the filmmakers -- Jimmy Hayward directed the superior "Horton Hears a Who" -- expected the actors to fix. And they didn't.

Casting Takei ("Oh, my!") as the time machine will amuse adults. Giving him little more than his catchphrase to say won't.

Frozen, undercooked and sorely lacking much in the way of "all the trimmings," this turkey isn't ready to serve.


MPAA rating: PG (for some action/peril and rude humor)

Running time: 1:31

The animated family film "Free Birds" is a comedy about two turkeys fighting to go back in time to change the fate of turkey ending up on Thanksgiving tables around the world. The film features the voices of Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler, Woody Harrelson, George Takei and Colm Meaney

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