★★ First off, let me say that Free Birds is an animated kids movie about time-travelling turkeys attempting to turn Thanksgiving into a vegetarian holiday. It even opens with a disclaimer that the film is a work of fiction in an attempt to dissuade critics from taking it seriously. But I am not dissuaded.
Owen Wilson provides the voice of Reggie, the blue headed turkey protagonist. Reggie is an outcast in his own time. He's too smart to be a turkey. He tells us, "Turkeys are dumb," and from what we see, we believe him.
Through a series of events more believable than the rest of the film, Reggie becomes the pardoned Thanksgiving Day turkey. He is flown to Camp David on Marine One, the President's private helicopter.
At Camp David, Reggie discovers the wonderful things he's been missing out on, like pizza delivery. And that brings us to the most unbelievable thing about this film, and yes, I say that about a film about talking, time-traveling turkeys.
The pizza delivery boxes provide a lovely opportunity for product placement, and the pizza company that swooped in on that opportunity is none other than Chuck E Cheese... a company that does not deliver pizza. Of course, the film also makes the point that humans can't understand the turkeys, hearing only "gobble gobble" instead of English. Yet the turkey can still order pizza over the phone. Let's move on, shall we?
Along with pizza, Reggie also enjoys watching Mexican soap operas. His favorite becomes Mundo del Amour. Why this is important, we never find out. It's one of many things introduced but never followed up on in the film.
Eventually Reggie is recruited by Jake (Woody Harrelson), a tough talking turkey who takes him back in time using S.T.E.V.E. (Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy), one of those acronyms that obviously started out with someone wanting it to spell Steve. S.T.E.V.E. is voiced by George Takei.
So we find ourselves in Plymouth Colony, 1621, three days before the first Thanksgiving, where we find out that turkeys used to be much smarter.
But the worst part is that these smarter, native turkeys play the role of the Indians in the film. They all wear war paint, and they have names like Broadbeak. Now there are actual native Americans in the film, but they only show up at the very end for the Thanksgiving feast. Their absence throughout the film and the replacement of them with the turkeys is a really weird choice. I can't decide how racist it actually is, but when the pilgrims go to war with these Native American turkeys, it feels really awkward.
Captain Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) is the film's villain. Now there is a real, historical Myles Standish who I'm sure was nothing like the villainous caricature we get here. He wouldn't stand out so much if he wasn't the only pilgrim that has a name.
When the movie gives you too much time without a laugh you start wondering about things like why this group of pilgrims, who've just arrived from England, all lack English accents. One of them even has a Latino accent, which makes as much sense as the rest of the film I suppose.
Harrelson, Wilson and Takei all do a nice job voice-wise, but they don't have much to work with here. It's a lazy script that includes a Macarena joke, which isn't funny now, nor in 1691. And lines like "They will take us back to the future so we can have an excellent adventure," do nothing but remind us of better, funnier time-traveling comedies.