Rental Corner: “Free Birds” is boringly undercooked
Free Birds was that rare case of a movie where I had to watch twice in one day. First time, it was in the day and about 40 minutes in was when I started to zone out and had to assist some can recycling. Second time was after work where I started from the beginning to see if anything was missed. And honestly, I should have just let it be and let my thoughts be at the 40 minute mark because anything pass the first 10 or 15 minutes is when it becomes an annoying bore. I heard a lot of negative things about this movie. And when watching it, I tried to find anything positive. There are a few things but it doesn’t save this (oh god…do I have to…fine) “turkey” from my negative justice.
The premise is about two turkeys that travel through time to stop the first Thanksgiving from ever having turkey on the menu both with different reasons of doing this action. Reggie (voice by Owen Willson) is the naïve and innocent everyman that just wants to relax and be free. He doesn’t want to be served on a platter and in the opening scenes, we see his life is nothing more but trying to convince other turkeys that life is just meaningless to his race of bird; its get fatten on corn and be eaten. But as luck may have it, he is chosen to be the “pardoned turkey” by the President (represented as a strange Ronald Regan caricature. Seriously how come no one mentioned this in the reviews? Its weird) and lives a life of luxury on pizza and Spanish soap operas.
Its a little cute at first until another turkey named Jake grabs him into a plan to go back to the first Thanksgiving and change history so turkeys are not a dinner for the holiday. Once they arrive, the movie drags deeper into its awkward comedy and odd-beat plot elements as a tribe of turkeys act like Native Americans who are avoiding the wraith of Myles Standish (really? a historical figure is made the bad guy?), a hunter who is trying to nab a turkey for a planed feast with the Natives. But the turkey tribe feels outmatched as they try to dispel the traps placed out and survive. And if you have read this far, you can obviously see why this movie plain fails.
From the trailer, I thought it was going to be a simple dumb movie. But what took me by surprise was how they were able turn a stupid idea that could have worked in some way but make it not only boring but even unpleasant. And the last time I had that feeling was watching Mars Needs Moms; a sci-fi family flick about Martians kidnapping a boy’s mother for gene extraction to program nanny robots that had little good characters or even anything remotely entertaining. But while Mars Needs Moms was trying to be science fiction, Free Birds is trying to be this colorful comedy and it doesn’t work. I’d go as far to say its on par with the bad alien flick but at least it tries to make effort but it still feels down right uncomfortable.
And its not the idea of animals being eaten or anything. Its more than that. At least with Free Birds, I can understand its trying to be a comedy by its tone and atmosphere where else Mars Needs Moms didn’t know whose audience it was meant for. So I’ll give credit that it knows its viewers but even I can’t let that one slide. There’s moments that feel out of place in its campy cartoon tone like one scene where the Pilgrim characters clamor about starvation and try to make a joke out of dying from hunger. I’m sorry but I found that really dark; even for a kid’s movie like this. They even try to make some form of commentary between turkeys raised in a farm compared to turkeys raised in a lab but that goes nowhere. Its placed in as a case of something I would like to call “The Gribble Effect.” A moment in a movie used for annoying side characters where they are giving a backstory to try and enhance but the moment feels forced and manipulated. They did this to Gribble in Mars Needs Moms and they do it here with Jake.
In fact, the minute he first appeared, I was already started to drift off. I get the idea. He’s a dumb muscle- headed bird that is out for adventure and his mission from a “Great Turkey” (don’t ask…). I can see this working for maybe someone along the lines of Joe Swanson but his antics just get old and tiring really fast with his energetic attitude and Woody Harrleson’s performance just doesn’t sound like he is all there. Its like he is aware the movie is bad and is addressing how absurd it is. He even does this earlier on in a doozy of a fourth wall joke that feels unneeded. He is just there is crack terrible jokes and mug about his muscles. It gets old fast.
In fact, I don’t think everyone does their job well in the acting department. Amy Poehler plays Jenny, a love interest turkey who has a weird quirk with her lazy eye that never lives up to much potential and it feels like Amy is on auto-pilot most of the time. In fact, a lot of these voices feel like they are there. Their not into the roles and just wanted the recording session done with. Owen Wilson, on the other hand, is the only thing that holds it together. At least Owen knows how to deliver comedy or maybe its because his suffer attitude somehow fits the role. I really got no complaints other than the fact this character has been done a lot but at least Owen really tries considering the material he has to work with.
Everything else is just a bore to sit through. The jokes go on for about maybe 45 seconds a gag. There is no pace within these jokes to make they standout. Even a prolonged scene in the mysterious bunker has guards cracking bad jokes and laughing so annoyingly that it made me want to put my thumbs deep into my ears. They even use the old “Two Weeks Till Retirement” joke. Its like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs where they just toss every joke at every 20 to 30 seconds like they are desperate for a laugh. At least with Cloudy, they make up for it with some character development but with Free Birds, I don’t feel like I spent enough time to know these characters. They just feel like they are there. Reggie is obvious going to save the day, Jake is there to make us laugh and fails, Jenny is going to get the hero and I honestly didn’t care for the Pilgrims at all.
I think they don’t make that much of an impact in this movie other than the villain who also doesn’t feel like he is used much or properly build up. He is there to hunt turkeys. That is all for motivation. Heck, even the Native Americans appear at the end like out of the blue because…yeah, its a Thanksgiving movie so…can’t have it without them. Even the characters beforehand don’t leave much of an impression for me to remember them. The group of turkeys Reggie is kicked out of is a lame parody of corn religion or something, the Ronald Regan president (seriously, why did they choose this design…its weird) just exists to get Reggie’s story going and the farmer doesn’t even get any lines. I think it would have been more effective if they did something like Chicken Run with the owners being low in debt on the turkey farm or even giving at least some character but they don’t even try.
But the biggest crime this movie has against it is the way they waste the premise. Reggie and Jake go to the 1600s just to stop Thanksgiving. In real history, there was no turkey served at Thanksgiving and I feel some comedic potential is wasted here. Why not do something like The Nightmare Before Christmas with the turkeys finding out how no turkey was served on the first Thanksgiving and try to make it permanent or make the holiday in their image? This could have lead to some really funny jokes like people praising turkeys like the next celebrity or even a Planet of the Apes parody where turkeys are the rulers of the Earth. Wouldn’t that make for a funnier movie? But no, they try to mess with history for the sake of messing with history thinking it will save turkeys from becoming holiday dinner. I even read up at one point John Kricfalusi had some involvement in the early production and posted some early artwork on his blog. And honestly, I would have loved to see THAT VERSION more compared to what we got in the final run.
I know your expecting me to riff on this movie about its “historical inaccuracy” but even from the opening, it is obviously addressed with George Takei saying that history that is portrayed is not true. My only guess is that they don’t want another Disney’s Pocahontas situation but its not like the disclaimer is needed. I know this movie is just for kids and will only change things around for the sake of story. You don’t need to spell it out for us. We have a thing called Google and can use it to see what is true and false.
(SPOILER…not like you would care…but still)
But worse of all is how this movie ends. I was very bored with it right when the time travel story kicked in and I really got annoyed when in the end, its not peace and understanding that saves it. Its product placement that gets turkeys off the menu as Reggie brings in mounds of Chuck E. Cheese pizza. I know this because the logo for the company is clearly slapped on the boxes. Even S.T.E.V.E. the time traveling computer that Geroge Takei voices exclaims how the breadsticks are good and the Natives mention how the pizza with sardines is like old socks but tastes better than his wife’s cooking. Oh how everyone was happy as they nommed on their pizza from the future causing turkeys and carving knives got to be replaced with a pizza and a pizza cutter. Oh how I wanted to rip every fiber out of my head when this happened. …Sorry…just wanted to get that off my chest.
This movie has a lot of potential and a lot of it is wasted. Right down to the very core is a flick that has something but then switches to auto-pilot for the sake of being on lack of motivation and well-written characters. If the script was solid, I would have excused the stiff animation and lazy backgrounds but Free Birds is just not well cooked enough to be even worth recommending. Not even for kids I think this is good for. Maybe a few tots might giggle at the cartoon designs but I don’t think it will get a high seller any time soon. Its not funny enough, the characters are one-note and everything just has this dull and unpleasant vibe to it. There’s even a joke with a turkey being hauled off to the shed by the farmer as he mentions about going to “Turkey Paradise” and the farmer has an ax in his hand. If that doesn’t sum up the overall feeling this movie left me, I’ll probably find myself at the gate of Reel FX Creative Studios complete naked and yelling a slew of obscenities. And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does come to that conclusion. Before I go mad, stick with Chicken Run. Its more inventive and you get your money worth. Free Birds can sit in the back of vault along with some ye old stuffing and cranberry sauce from the 17oos for all I care. It doesn’t deserve a viewing.
Posted on June 8, 2014, in Rental Corner and tagged Animation, Chicken Run, Free Birds, Mars Needs Moms, Owen Willson, Pizza, Reel FX, rental corner, Thanksgiving, Time Travel, Turkeys, Worst. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.