Friday, 4 July 2014

Free Birds

Ah, parents. They just don’t have a clue, do they? As any kid who’s ever been bought a Wii because it’s “the same” as an Xbox 360 will attest, parents simply can’t be trusted when it comes to making important decisions like what console to buy, what movie to see, or what to make for dinner. And so it was that I ended up watching Dreamworks’ Antz as a grumpy nine year old, while all my friends were raving about the much-better Pixar animation A Bug’s Life.

That’s not to say Relativity Media’s 2013 adventure Free Birds is as eerily similar to another film as A Bug’s Life and Antz were – but it does have an awful lot in common with Chicken Run.

The computer-animated film tells the story of Reggie (Owen Wilson), a free-range turkey who’s spent his whole life unsuccessfully trying to convince the other turkeys they’re being fattened up to be eaten on Thanksgiving. See, Reggie’s friends aren’t the brightest bunch: as far as they’re concerned, corn is the most important thing in the world and the farmer is their best friend. When Thanksgiving finally arrives, Reggie finally manages to convince the other turkeys of their fate – but they turn on him, handing him over to the humans who’ve arrived to take them away.

Luckily for Reggie, the humans in question are the president and his entourage, who’re there for America’s annual turkey-pardoning ceremony. Reggie ends up living in the White House, in the president’s daughter’s care, and falls into a comfortable life of pizza and telenovelas. Enter Jake (Woody Harrelson), a wild turkey who claims a mythical “Great Turkey” has given him a mission to go back in time and prevent turkeys ever becoming the de facto Thanksgiving meal.

Jake kidnaps Reggie, and the pair blunder their way into a top-secret US time machine called S.T.E.V.E. (played by the fantastic George Takei). S.T.E.V.E. takes Reggie and Jake to 1621, three days before the first Thanksgiving, where they meet Jenny (Amy Poehler) and a host of other wild turkeys who’re doing what they can to avoid being captured, cooked, and served up by colonial hunters. What follows is your typical madcap children’s adventure, as Reggie and Jake attempt to take turkey off the menu once and for all.

There’s plenty of cartoonish slapstick on offer here, which little kids will love, but very little of the substance and heart you’ll find in Pixar and Dreamworks Animation’s movies. The writing feels flat – particularly the jokes, which even kids will be able to tell are lazy and derivative. The animation isn’t much better; Free Birds honestly looks more like an open-world video game than a movie thanks to its stiff, clumpy grass and bland, empty backgrounds.

And, unlike literally every other movie in its genre, this one makes no effort to appeal to adults – a shame, considering they’re the ones shelling out the money. I was perfectly happy watching Toy Story 3 and Monsters University on my own steam, and even went to see Despicable Me 2 with a group of other twenty-something guys, but this is one to sit your kids in front of while you’re busy doing something else. George Takei’s performance as S.T.E.V.E. might raise a chuckle or two, but that’s about it.

So yes, in the end, Free Birds is to Chicken Run what Antz was to A Bug’s Life – a similar story, told in a similar way, with none of the heart. Little kids will giggle themselves silly at its visual gags and light-hearted story, but this isn’t one of those special films they’ll end up showing their kids in years to come.

Free Birds isn’t a complete turkey, but only manages to scrape a 3/5.


Mike Lee

Free Birds at CeX

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