By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The original title of this animated comedy, “Turkeys,” was carved up and jettisoned, perhaps in fear that the finished film would indeed turn out to be a turkey of a turkey flick.
Free Birds is a PG-rated kidflick about poultry that’s not paltry, about fowl that’s not foul.
Owen Wilson provides the voice of Reggie, a turkey (not a wild turkey or a jive turkey, just a turkey) with so little regard for the farmer who oversees them and the complacent, sedentary, overfed (corn, corn, and more corn) existence of the other turkeys in his flock (the flock being a concept he doesn’t exactly embrace) on the family-owned farm where they live, that he has become a virtual outcast.
Which is why the rest of the flock won’t listen to him when he voices warnings or complaints.
When the president of the United States, at the request of his daughter, pays a surprise visit and chooses Reggie to be this year’s “pardoned” turkey, as is the carver-in-chief’s prerogative, he gets to relocate to the cushy confines of Camp David, where pizza and TV on demand should keep him relaxed.
But the Turkey Paradise doesn’t last long because Jake — a rival of Reggie’s and president (and only member) of the Turkey Freedom Front — kidnaps Reggie because he has big plans.
Jake and Reggie hijack a time machine called S.T.E.V.E. (voiced by Star Trek’s George Takei), an acronym for Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy, hidden in a bunker near Camp David, and travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony in 1621 in the hopes of preventing turkeys from becoming the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal.
That’s where and when Reggie meets Jenny, voiced by Amy Poehler, the fetching daughter of the local turkey chief, who will figure prominently both in their mission to change the national dish and in Reggie’s romantic thoughts.
Director Jimmy Hayward — the animator who co-directed the fine, animated Horton Hears a Who! and directed the forgettable, non-animated Jonah Hex and co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Mosier from a story by David I. Stern and John J. Strauss.
The writers let the fowl-out-of-water narrative scatter and get away from them in the late going. But the initial premise is a solid one and the funny jokes and clever bits are plentiful.
Aspiring to be Chicken Run, which was a gem, the film is more of a Chicken Walk, with blatant product placement that’s a bit much.
But it’s got an effective balance of unforced humor aimed at the kids along with numerous jokey references for the grownups.
So we’ll stuff 2½ stars out of 4 for Free Birds, an agreeable and digestible animated Thanksgiving comedy that feeds the family audience by talking turkey.