Dave White
Free Birds Review

Dave's Rating:


Angry at birds.

Even terrible films can possess one (and sometimes more than one) element of inspired greatness. Something the creators fought for, possibly, or maybe just a lucky mistake. In this particular terrible animated film about turkeys who must band together across the centuries in order to rewrite the bird-roasting traditions of Thanksgiving, that inspired greatness arrives in the form of S.T.E.V.E., a glowing, time-traveling space egg with the voice of George Takei. S.T.E.V.E.'s a sardonic space egg, the witty entity that momentarily livens up your 90-minute incarceration inside a laugh-deprivation tank. But he's only a side order of space egg, not the whole show. And that leaves you with the rest of the movie.

One lucky turkey named Reggie (the voice of Owen Wilson), the smartest one in his flock, is pardoned by the President just before Thanksgiving and sent off to live at Camp David where he becomes a big fan of pizza and telenovelas. Kidnapped from this luxurious existence by rebel bird Jake (Woody Harrelson), the pair steal S.T.E.V.E. from a lab and travel back to 1621 to fight the power, Terminator-style. There they meet pilgrims, Miles Standish, an Amy Poehler turkey and some Native Americans. Gears suddenly shift and what plays out next is a highly problematic genocide metaphor, one that children will miss and adults won't remember. And then it turns into talking-animal Braveheart.

I say highly problematic because the bird story becomes an analog for the historical treatment of Native Americans. The birds are simultaneously portrayed as stupid and lazy -- that's not over-thinking it, either, it's front and center here for any adult viewer to pick up on. And you can't help but pick up on it when there's nothing else of actual entertainment value to work with and distract you. As weird, racially offensive cartoons go, it's no Song of The South, and it could be argued that its heart is in the right place as both a child-friendly history lesson and as a PETA-sanctioned, anti-meat Thanksgiving fantasy.

But even if none of the burdensome, prickly metaphor mess were present, it would need to be sharp on all fronts and avoid already-dated "Angry Birds" jokes in the process. It would have to become smart and intuitive about when it's stomping on the line that separates good intentions from obnoxious stereotypes. It would need to be funny in more than sporadic fits and starts. It might even try to be inventive with its approach to time travel and that process's multiple consequential sticking points. But it's none of those things.

In the end, a grumpy grown-up's assessment of this film's many failures isn't going to matter much. Practically speaking, kids are the final arbiters of taste in these matters. But the preview audience full of children was a sonic vacuum of bewildered silence in between the slapstick sequences, and it's highly unlikely that its "Meat Is Murder" message is going to sink in any time before that target market ages into the kind of consciousness required to become rebellious about food. Better luck next time, message-poultry and talking space eggs (please, whatever deity controls turkey representation in pop culture, let there not be a next time).


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