Thanksgiving without turkey at the center of the table?
That’s what the fine feathered friends in Free Birds would like to see happen.
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler, among others, lend their voices to director and co-writer Jimmy Hayward’s Free Birds, a tonally unbalanced and intermittently amusing entry in the holiday moviegoing sweepstakes.
Free Birds follows Reggie (Wilson), a scrawny outcast who finds himself pardoned by the president and adopted by the president’s narcoleptic daughter (stay with me — it gets even more convoluted).
One evening, having become accustomed to a life of delivery pizza and telenovelas within the comfy confines of Camp David, Reggie is abducted by Jake (Harrelson), a freedom-fighting turkey who is convinced he must travel back in time, to the very first Thanksgiving, in order to save all of turkeydom from being the main course every November.
There’s even a massive, secret time-travel facility, complete with an egg-shaped time machine (voiced by George Takei), helpfully located right next door to Camp David.
Shenanigans ensue, and soon, Reggie and Jake are among the Pilgrims at Plymouth, where wild turkeys, led by the spunky Jenny (Poehler) and her stern father, Chief Broadbeak (Keith David), turn out to be clever and hard-working, instead of slow and lazy, like modern turkeys.
The Pilgrims, led by the villainous Myles Standish (Colm Meaney), are desperately tracking the turkeys in order to keep from starving, but nature is outwitting mankind.
Free Birds treads very familiar ground over the course of its 91 minutes, and ends up exactly where you think it will. None of the cast is asked to stretch — Wilson plays an amiable, wry variation on his usual bemused protagonist, Poehler vacillates between earnest and flippant, and Harrelson is full-bore bonkers — and the screenplay, co-written by Hayward and Scott Mosier, can’t decide between lighthearted romp and deathly serious drama. (Also, the film loses points for trying — and failing — to make a totally lame Angry Birds joke.)
Free Birds is notable, however, for being the theatrical feature debut for Dallas’ Reel FX Creative Studios, which DFW.com profiled in February, and which produced the animation. Screened in 3-D, there are a few genuinely dazzling sequences — the initial time-travel journey is eye-popping, as is a pulse-pounding chase sequence through the treetops upon first arrival in Plymouth — that make good use of the spatial possibilities of 3-D presentation.
Here’s hoping Reel FX finds itself aligned with projects of a higher caliber going forward, though, because, apart from the lively animation work, Free Birds is a total turkey.