Let me start out this review with a spoiler alert: although Free Birds is a buddy film and the buddies are dudes, the strongest and most intelligent character by far is a girl. And a turkey. And she has a lazy eye.
And let me go on to say that I’ll definitely be taking my kids to see this movie in the theater. And that after hearing Amy Poehler, Owen Wilson, and Woody Harrelson dish on their kids, I think we need to have a playdate. Keep reading if you want to know more about why turkeys can be exciting and what it’s like to make Owen Wilson laugh. Because I totally did.
A Thanksgiving movie about…turkeys? Don’t worry, it totally works.
The director of Free Birds (Jimmy Hayward, director of Horton Hears a Who) says he wanted to make a film for everyone, which means your kids are going to love it and you’ll get the secret adult jokes, one of which still has me giggling.
It’s a tale of two turkeys named Reggie and Jake going back in a time machine named Steve (voiced wonderfully by George Takei) to stop the first Thanksgiving and take turkey off the menu permanently. But it’s really a gentle invective against factory farming and a reminder that children (and eggs!) are our future.
As for the movie, I expect my kids to love it, as turkeys are just inherently silly animals, which the animation really brings to life. The 3D effects are cool but not overdone, especially the time travel sequences. I found myself mesmerized by the movement of the turkey feathers and the adorableness of the baby turkeys. And there are tons of geeky homages, from Minions to Mufasa to George Takei being…George Takei. Oh my!
You might not recognize Woody Harrelson’s voice, as he doesn’t play to type, but the on-screen chemistry between him and Owen Wilson is predictably fun to watch. And with Amy Poehler as Jenny, a level-headed and self-confident turkey from 1621, it’s certainly nice to see a woman chosen as a leader over her blowhard brother.
Although Free Birds is about turkeys and Thanksgiving, the overarching themes are good ones for kids: you should never give up on your goals, and there is a world beyond the individual that’s worth fighting for.
There’s also a pretty obvious theme about eating pizza for Thanksgiving that might make your holiday harder–or easier. Depending on your kids.
As far as caveats go, I have to admit I cringed at the ham-handed representation of Native Americans, who are shoved in at the very end for some goofy humor–and aren’t even historically accurate as to the Plymouth area tribes. It’s uncomfortable at best. There are also several fat-shaming jokes, and although Jenny is clearly the smartest, bravest leader, she’s one of few females with a speaking part. I counted at least six female scientists in the lab scene (yes I really did), then realized that still wasn’t even half of the scientists represented, which I think is a misstep.
And why would there be a turkey with a Mexican accent in Massachusetts in the 1600s? No idea.
Be aware that it’s a movie meant to make kids laugh, and in getting there, the writers take some easy pot-shots that might rub you the wrong way. Although on the bright side, at least there aren’t any fart jokes. And overall, I really dug it!
Free Birds also sags a little bit right before the end, so here’s a hint: if your kids need to use the bathroom, go when you see multiple time-traveling Reggies and you won’t miss much.
Free Birds is rated PG, mainly for the usual bloodless cartoon violence and a brief discussion of rubbing wattles. Hubba hubba! I’ll be taking my five- and seven-year olds, and we’ll probably stop for pizza afterward. And then I’ll explain why the time traveling turkeys should’ve helped the Native Americans, too.
And for those of you who want a little celebrity gossip from my interview with the cast, yes, Owen Wilson is awesome in person and I totally made him laugh, which was the highlight of my life. Amy Poehler admitted she once sent her oldest kid to school with an empty lunchbox, which made me like her even more. And Woody Harrelson’s entire family is vegan, so they won’t be eating turkey or pizza this Thanksgiving.
Actually, if baby turkeys were really this cute, I’m pretty sure no one would eat any ever again. –Delilah
The Free Birds Movie is out in theaters November 1. Check out the Free Birds website for more information.
Thanks to Relativity Media for covering Delilah’s travel and accommodations to the press screening.