The Other Side of Animation: Free Birds Review

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When you are an animation studio, and you are putting out your first big animated feature, it’s rather daunting. Reel FX, the Dallas-based studio behind today’s film, Free Birds, has experience with straight-to-DVD stuff or animated shorts, but the rules change when you have to move from one type of animation to another. I will talk more about this in the future with The Book of Life since we are here to talk about their first big CGI animated feature, Free Birds. Directed by Jimmy Hayward, who has worked on multiple Pixar films, and was the unfortunate director of Jonah Hex, Free Birds was released on November 1st of 2013. It was critically panned, but made its money back in spades, which the film should consider itself lucky that it did, due to the fact that it came out a few weeks before the gigantic hit Frozen made its way into theaters. So, do I think Free Birds is bad? Do I think it’s good? Well, I’m going to stop you cold turkey, and tell you in a review what I think of this film. I oh so apologize/not apologize for that pun.

The story revolves around a turkey named Reggie, voiced by Owen Wilson. Reggie is the presidential pardoned turkey, who ends up living with the leader of the world. One night he gets kidnapped by this buff turkey named Jake, voiced by Wood Harrelson. The two of them sneak into a secret base (with some groan-worthy product placements), obtain a time machine named Steve, voiced by George Takei, and go all the way back to the very first Thanksgiving to prevent turkeys from being the main course of feasts in the future. Along the way they meet some wild turkeys, with one female turkey voiced by Amy Poehler. Can they change history, or will they become the next Thanksgiving feast?

Yeah, this movie sounds stupid doesn’t it? In a sense, it is. It sounds more like a plot to a short film or a Looney Toons cartoon than a setting that could hold a two-hour movie. In short, it really doesn’t hold up. The idea sounds creative and might lead to some funny jokes, but the plot is stretched thin with a very generic story where Reggie saves the turkeys from the humans. None of the characters are memorable, with the exception of Jake and Steve. Even Amy Poehler, who I think is very funny, and has done amazingly in films like Inside Out, isn’t given a lot to work with. She is just an uninteresting female character. I think the film could have cut out a lot of the characters, like some of the side character turkeys who have no real reason to be there or have any dimension to them. Owen Wilson as the main character isn’t the worst choice, but just like everyone else, he doesn’t have a lot to work with, and just ends up not making me feel invested with the character. I am never in the camp that hates his acting; I just think his movie choices are always mediocre, unless I find him in a Woody Allen film or Wes Anderson production. Owen Wilson just keeps using that doofy, nice guy character that is almost in every film he is in. Oh, and let’s just mention how stereotypical the Native American turkeys and the Native Americans are portrayed in this film. Not incredibly out-of-control racist, but very children-movie-oriented stereotypical. It’s also kind of awkward when one of them says, “It’s better than my wife’s cooking.” Yeah, I’ll stop right there. Oh, and make sure you find a lot of the blatant product placement. Man, it’s not in your face, but it’s in there enough to be annoying.

 

So, I must really hate this entire movie, huh? Well, within all this spread-thin plot, and stupidity of the setup, I did find myself laughing at a few moments. I think between many of the mediocre story bits were some funny moments. Most of them did come from Woody Harrelson, who is a lot of fun to watch in this movie, and George Takei as the voice for the Time Machine. While George doesn’t have the best material, he is one of those guys that can make the phone book sound interesting. Heck, even having George Takei’s character reading 50 Shades of Grey would have made this movie 100% better. I admire his delivery more than the actual material at hand. I also liked the beginning bit when the President’s daughter is hauling Owen Wilson around. She makes these little comments toward people, like blabbing out that a female secretary on the helicopter loves her dad, who I remind you, is the president, and when they get back, she says that a maid eats her feelings. I can’t really pin down why that little sequence made me laugh, but I guess that my expectations were so low that those jokes caught me off-guard. It’s a shame that not a lot of jokes like that were used throughout the film. Those few jokes were more humorous than the constant and multiple jokes about turkey butt.

I will also mention that the animation is definitely better than something like The Nut Job. It still isn’t up to Dreamworks or Pixar levels of CGI, and having a lesser budget made the comedic animation suffer, since it needed to be a tad faster to capture that fast-paced timing from the Tom and Jerry-era of comedic timing. They could have used a lot more time and money to have more polished animation and character models.

So, what do I think of the film overall? I think it’s too forgettable and predictable to be anything worth mentioning or seeing, but at the same time, I found little elements and bits of the film to be enjoyable and fun. Don’t get me wrong, this is a stupid movie with a stupid concept. It’s a bad movie. It doesn’t hit a lot of the emotional notes that it wants to, a lot of the characters are not that interesting, the humor falls flat, and the stereotypical portrayal of certain individuals can be looked at as questionable.  However, I will say that it is better than something like The Nut Job and a few other films I am going to tackle later on. If I was watching someone’s child, and they wanted to watch this, I could see why, though I will be frank and say that they need better movies. Not the best film I have seen, but then again, it came out in a year where films in general were not that great. Well, now that we got this film out of the way, I think it’s time to bring back another GKIDS film as we take a look at their first ever release, Azur & Asmar: The Prince’s Quest. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

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