While we at Giant Freakin’ Robot usually aim our coverage at a more grown up audience (age wise anyway, there’s no taking into account the maturity levels of our dutiful readers), we’re fully aware that there is a younger generation of burgeoning sci-fi fans. A few of us are even spawned and are raising them ourselves. That said, kid centric movies can often be a difficult task to sit through (Mars Needs Moms anyone?), even for the most hardened B-movie fans among us. So when you get a kid’s sci-fi movie that you can enjoy right along side those miniature versions of yourselves, and not want to gouge our eyes out, you have to jump on that opportunity.
This is where the animated, sci-fi, Thanksgiving-themed Free Birds comes in. Despite the fact that there are no discernible Lynryd Skynyrd references contained in the actual film, this feature is bouncy enough to entertain your young’ens, and it’s a damn good time for you as well. Free Birds has time travel, talking turkeys, and heart. Not to mention a ton of in-jokes to keep you on your toes. Take into consideration that it’s directed by Jimmy Hayward, who helmed the questionable Jonah Hex adaptation, and you’re looking at a fair amount of strangeness. When you pick up on the RoboCop gag a few minutes in, you can sit back secure in the knowledge that there’s plenty here for you, too. You’ll notice nods to the likes of Planet of the Apes and Braveheart, as well as damn near every time travel movie ever made. Some are subtle, while others are blatant.
Free Birds isn’t going to blow you out of the water with originality, but the story throws in a few wrinkles that keep it from being a complete rehash. We’re talking cute and fun and upbeat enough to keep you engaged throughout. Reggie (Owen Wilson) is the smartest turkey on the farm. His intellect has made him an outsider, and he is the only one that realizes they’re being fattened up for the slaughter. You can’t help but notice a few jabs at organized religion as the dumbass turkeys blindly wait to go to “Turkey Paradise,” also known as the shed where the farmer lops their heads off with an axe.
Reggie, however, has the good fortune to receive the annual Presidential pardon, and be spared this grisly fate. After falling into relaxing lifestyle of pizza and Mexican soap operas, Jake (Woody Harrelson), the leader and sole member of the Turkey Freedom Front, enlists a reluctant Reggie in a harebrained scheme. Together they go back in time to the first Thanksgiving in order to “get turkey off the menu.” What follows is something of a cross between Dances With Wolves and Avatar, except, you know, with turkeys fighting Pilgrims.
Is this an absurd concept? Yes. Have you seen similar story arcs played out against various backgrounds? Of course. But Free Birds tackles this set up with enough tongue in cheek earnestness that you can’t help but grin and chuckle a fair amount over the 91-minute run time. While there is obvious spastic wackiness aimed to please the sugar-addled minds of children, the fact that George Takei is the sassy voice of the STEVE, the time machine, should be enough to make you drag the family to the theater with haste. You’ll also notice other tidbits thrown in to appease and amuse an older demographic with a twisted sense of humor, like the obviously stoned pizza guy
Free Birds may not hold up to the Toy Storys and ParaNormans of the world, but the adorable, frizzed out cartoon fowl are damn cute, and it’s nice to get a Thanksgiving movie that doesn’t revolve around tedious family drama. Just a heads up, you may, however, wind up having in uncomfortable conversation with your kids about exactly where your holiday meal comes from.