MRR Review: "Free Birds"

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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.
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MRR Review: "Free Birds"

Rating: PG Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: November 1, 2013
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Genre: Animation / Comedy

Buddy movies can be found in multiple movie genres, from racing films to crime dramas, and "Free Birds" manages to contain all the tropes of a buddy comedy without falling into obvious stereotypes. The animated offering is a great choice for families, though a few adult jokes are likely to sail over the heads of younger viewers. "Free Birds" is a great choice for families with children too young to attend the scarier or more intense releases in the October lineup, and it gives Thanksgiving the chance to claim a film all its own, without being tacked on to a Halloween or Christmas special.

"Free Birds" tells the story of a young turkey named Reggie (Owen Wilson) who is pardoned by the President on Thanksgiving and drafted by a larger, more aggressive bird called Jake (Woody Harrelson) to steal a time machine and go back and get turkey off of the Thanksgiving menu. What follows is a raucous adventure aimed at children with a few nods for older viewers. The time machine, S.T.E.V.E. (George Takei), and a young female turkey called Jenny (Amy Poehler) round out the main cast and add further depth to the fairly light and easily followed tale.

The acting in "Free Birds" is one of the elements that will keep audiences engaged and invested in the somewhat obvious storyline. Wilson is up to the same antics he has displayed alongside many different partners in buddy films, and Harrelson's Jake is almost too reminiscent of the actor's role in "Zombieland." The two show obvious chemistry onscreen, and both interact beautifully with Takei and Poehler. Takei deserves special note as he brings life to what might otherwise have been a cardboard cutout of a machine. Director Jimmy Hayward also handles many of the voices for supporting characters throughout the film, but Takei and Wilson steal the show.

Many elements of the cinematography may seem off-putting for viewers, and it's one of the areas where the film struggles regularly. Poor camera angles and the quality of the animation are only some of the issues that crop up. More noticeably, the less-than-subtle plugs for the Chuck E. Cheese kid's playground and pizza parlor may distract many parents. Far too many children are likely to leave the movie remembering more about the obvious onscreen advertising for the pizza house than what actually happened in the film. At one point, the advertising pushes the limits when a key story element seems filmed almost entirely in a frame of Chuck E. Cheese boxes. The lighting and sound are done exceptionally well, but the advertising definitely threatens the suspension of disbelief for many adult viewers.

Although the movie's script is fairly linear and predictable, the dialogue is one of the film's saving graces, and the power of the voice acting in the film drives the plot along. The pacing of the story itself is a bit strange, as seemingly important elements fly past while the camera and characters linger on minor issues with no overall plot ties. This may be a directorial choice, however, designed to help keep the film's pacing more accessible for children with exceptionally short attention spans. The love story between Reggie and Jenny threatens to derail and remove focus from the overall tale, as does the peacocking between Jake and another turkey named Ranger.

The film's direction is somewhat hit-and-miss. The casting decisions and placement of virtual props and set pieces are excellent, but the haphazard pacing is likely to make few fans, even among younger viewers. Moviegoers may feel they are yanked quickly out of plot-heavy developments by irreverent or unnecessary gags before lingering on scenes that lack both humor or plot advancement. By the end of the film, the main thrust of the story, involving saving turkeys from their annual Thanksgiving fate, may be lost to all but the most careful of observers.

"Free Birds" creates its own tale for the holiday season without becoming bogged down in stereotypes or continual sight gags. This makes it a worthy choice for a family viewing, but adult viewers without children may find little worth appreciating in the film. The obvious advertising for Chuck E. Cheese pizza throughout the movie is likely to upset some moviegoers, who may not expect such blatant ad placement in a children's film. The movie is sure to be fun for younger viewers, however, as well as those who can enjoy it without taking any part too seriously. Parents should be very aware that their children are likely to leave the film demanding a visit to Chuck E. Cheese and take little away in terms of plot or storyline.

Rating: 3 out of 5