Free Birds: Film Review

Wilson, Harrelson and Poehler affably talk turkey in this underachieving, if PETA-pleasing, animated caper.

Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler play a trio of animated turkeys determined to remove the traditional bird from the inaugural Thanksgiving menu.

Although it seldom approaches the inspiration of its plucky premise -- a pair of turkeys travel back in a time machine to the first Thanksgiving in a bid to scratch the traditional entree off the menu -- Free Birds nevertheless manages to avoid being branded a holiday turkey.

It can offer thanks to a lively group of voice talent led by Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler, who manage to inject a little levity into the forced, stale gags stuffed into the 3D animated offering, served with easily digestible portions of social and environmental consciousness.

The result should prove sufficiently pleasing for younger viewers and, given an aggressive marketing push by Relativity Media, this first feature produced by Dallas-based Reel FX (with an assist from its Santa Monica studio) could well be gobbled up by families looking to fill the gap before the Thanksgiving arrival of Disney’s Frozen.

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Directed and co-written by Jimmy Hayward from an original story idea by David I. Stern and John J. Strauss, the picture concerns itself with Reggie (Wilson), an unusually self-aware turkey who’s plucked from a certain future at the processing plant when he’s designated “Pardoned Turkey” by the president of the United States.

But his days of being the first daughter’s pampered pet over at Camp David are cut short when he’s forcibly recruited by the gung-ho but dim-witted Jake (Harrelson), the lone wolf founder of the Turkey Freedom Front.

Having gained access to S.T.E.V.E., a top-secret time machine voiced by George Takei, Reggie and Jake head back to Plymouth Colony circa 1621, mere days before the first Thanksgiving will enshrine their likeness at the center of the festive table.

They receive some valuable assistance in their quest from Jenny (Poehler), the brave and beautiful blue-eyed daughter of Wild Turkey Chief Broadbeak (Keith David), but time is of the essence if Reggie is going to be successful in rewriting tradition by replacing turkey with delivery pizza.

Apparently even a time-traveling turkey of today didn’t foresee the gluten-free craze.

Hayward, who made his directorial debut with 2008’s Horton Hears a Who! keeps the pace moving at an agreeable trot, but the screenplay, which he co-wrote with Scott Mosier, could have used some serious punching up when it came to the tired comic bits, which are wobblier than a turkey’s wattle.

But the three leads prove nimbler with their amiable vocal deliveries, especially animation pros Wilson (Lightning McQueen in the two Cars movies) and Poehler, who now can add a wild turkey to an extensive animated roster that includes a chipmunk (a pair of Alvin and the Chipmunks films), Snow White (Shrek the Third) and Gretel (Hoodwinked Too!) in addition to her previously work with Hayward on Horton.

Although, like so many animated features these days, the 3D feels largely dispensable, the characters and backdrops are rendered in fittingly crisp autumnal hues, and Dominic Lewis’ warm score feels at home in both time periods.

Production: Reel FX Animation Studios

Voice cast: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David

Director: Jimmy Hayward

Screenwriters: Scott Mosier and Jimmy Hayward

Producer: Scott Mosier

Executive producers: Aron Warner, John J. Strauss, David I. Stern

Production designer: Kevin R. Adams

Editor: Chris Cartagena

Music: Dominic Lewis

Rated PG, 91 minutes