"Free Birds" Takes Flight This Thanksgiving

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Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history - and get turkey off the holiday menu for good.
Photo Credit: Relativity Media
November 15th, 2013

MOTW: "Free Birds" Takes Flight This Thanksgiving

"Free Birds" is a computer-animated comedy that was released on Nov. 1, 2013. Considering the subject material, the film's release date is fitting. After all, "Free Birds" is a buddy comedy about turkeys trying to take their feathered friends off the Thanksgiving menu for good. The film has an all-star cast, including Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, and even George Takei. "Free Birds" is directed by Jimmy Hayward, who worked as an animator on movies such as "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2," "A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc.," and "Finding Nemo." His first live-action film was "Jonah Hex," which came shortly after his first animated film, "Horton Hears a Who."

"Free Birds" begins on a farm full of turkeys who have no idea that their idyllic lives are leading to their ultimate demise as Thanksgiving swiftly approaches. The only turkey who has any idea what might be going on is Reggie, played by Owen Wilson. Unfortunately for Reggie, his attempts to warn the rest of the turkeys on the farm are ignored and sometimes result in bullying. He becomes the outcast of the flock and leads a lonely life, having been being labeled as a paranoid oddball. Finally, the turkeys realize Reggie has been right all along, but their reaction is not the one Reggie has hoped for. His flock offers him as a sacrifice to their farmer in an attempt to save themselves. Reggie is sure his life is over, but in a twist of fate, he's noticed by the president of the United States, who is visiting the farm to pardon a turkey in the time-honored Thanksgiving tradition. Reggie is whisked away from his life at the farm and sent to Camp David, where he beings a life of luxury and discovers a love for pizza and trashy soap operas.

Reggie's cushy life comes to a screeching halt just a few days before Thanksgiving when a burly turkey named Jake, voiced by Woody Harrelson, kidnaps him. Reggie soon discovers that Jake is the president of the Turkey Liberation Front as well as the sole member. Jake explains that a being called the Great Turkey commanded him to track down Reggie so that they can go back in time to the very first Thanksgiving in order to take turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu. Reggie has no idea how Jake plans on going back in time until Jake explains that there's a time machine at Camp David. In spite of nearly being caught by the government and Reggie's futile attempts to trick Jake into giving up his quest, the two turkeys manage to reach the time machine, and Jake drags Reggie along with him. The time machine is shaped like an egg, of course, and the AI software is voiced by none other than George Takei.

The time machine takes the turkeys all the way back to 1621, where they are instantly pursued by colonial hunters who are looking for birds to eat. At the last minute, they're rescued by a flock of native turkeys led by an older turkey named Chief Broadback, who has two children named Hunter and Jenny. Jenny, portrayed by Amy Poehler, immediately gets the attention of Reggie, who is smitten by her. Chief Broadbeak explains to Reggie and Jake that they've been forced to live underground ever since the settlers arrived, and that they'll be taken and eaten if they fight back. Of course, this is exactly what Jake has come to fight against, and Reggie is now drawn into the fight as well.

As expected, "Free Birds" is a typical animated adventure film with good guys, bad guys, and a big battle scene. However, unlike most, "Free Birds" might start some interesting discussions on what the real first Thanksgiving was like and how farm animals should be treated. Like other films the director has worked on, "Free Birds" has some moral ambiguity. After all, just about everyone eats turkey. Fortunately, "Free Birds" is not as preachy as it could have been, and the film manages to entertain audiences with an engaging story, likable characters, a talented voice cast, and a good message. All in all, "Free Birds" is a good family film for the holidays and is sure to be a favorite of the younger crowd, but there are plenty of jokes and themes that parents can appreciate as well.