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Free Birds – Movie Review

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Free Birds – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

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A lot of animated films, not adapted from pre-existing material, are based on “what if” premises and the plot of Free Birds is certainly a clever one with lots of room for comedic potential. What would happen if turkeys decided they’ve had enough of being the main course on Thanksgiving? Hiring Scott Mosier, who has long been working alongside Kevin Smith as his producing partner, to co-wrote the screenplay was certainly an ideal choice. Free Birds definitely begins with a lot of promise, but somehow, when the story kicks in, the writing finds itself in safer and more obvious territory than the plot summary would suggest.

The best parts in Free Birds are definitely early on, as our lead Reggie responds to the general stupidity of turkeys. These moments provide for very funny and sharp bits that almost lampoon the usual outcast hero of animated features. In this case, the rational and normal one is considered the oddball. The Presidential Pardon subplot also leads to some clever and subtle adult humour, which definitely feel like a product of Mosier’s contributions. Things get even more exciting and hilarious inside the military base, leading to what could be one of the funniest films of the year…and then they travel back in time. Suddenly, the funny jokes are a lot more sporadic and the screenplay enters auto-pilot mode. It almost seems a new pair of writers got involved with the historic portions of the film, because the wit of the first act suddenly vanishes.

Reggie is a likeable character and Owen Wilson has the right voice for an animated character, as some of the few funny jokes in the 1621 portions are courtesy of his occasional one-liners. However, most of the gags just seem stale and while the jokes are definitely on the screen, they don’t quite hit as successfully as those in the first act. Even the frequently reliable Amy Poehler is given nothing to work with as she basically plays the straight woman to the time-traveling turkeys, making one wonder why she was cast in the first place (other than marquee value, which means nothing for an animated film, anyway). Jenny’s one big humourous moment comes from an odd running gag involving a lazy eye that seems to occasionally appear with no actual pay-off or point.

The screenplay takes a surprisingly predictable turn when in the past, as almost every expected cliché happens. The human antagonists are a bore themselves with a one-dimensional hunter who does not come off the least bit threatening. Free Birds also tries to bite off more than it can chew, as a later moment meant to elicit drama and emotion does not feel earned. The time travel aspect is played rather loosely, too, with no worry about disrupting the space-time continuum. However, like a lot of time travel stories, thinking too much about certain aspects will just melt your brain, since it mixes different time travel theories together. Doc Brown would certainly have a field day if he saw how Free Birds depicts history hopping.

This is the first animated feature from special effects company Reel FX, who had done a particularly stunning job of converting the Looney Tunes to computer animation in a recent series of shorts. The character design is nothing special and it’s evident that none of the contributions from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi’s early prep work made it into the final film. However, the animation is more than passable. It does not have quite the lush locations of director Jimmy Hayward’s earlier Horton Hears a Who, but the setting obviously doesn’t present many opportunities for a “pretty” landscape. However, the character animation has a solid fast and loose quality to it. Nobody is going to confuse this for a Pixar production, but the look of the picture is decent enough.

Free Birds is the sort of picture I like to refer as an “airplane movie”, in that it distracts and entertains you for ninety minutes, but then you promptly forget about it not long afterwards. However, what makes this a tad disappointing is the immense promise of the storyline and the cleverness showcased early on in the film. There is definitely an inkling of a very good animated feature in here, especially with talented folks like Mosier and Hayward working on it, but the whole film just comes off as mildly amusing and not reaching its full potential.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

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