Review: 'Free Birds' is a real turkey of a 'toon
“Free Birds” is more proof, as if 2013 needed it, that Hollywood has almost killed the animated goose that laid the golden egg.
In this case, the goose is a turkey. A year that has produced the clever and heartfelt “The Croods” and the passably amusing “Despicable Me 2” has also had a healthy dose of sausage factory about it. “Epic,” “Monsters University,” “Planes,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “Turbo” — all major pictures that hint at a talent pool spread absurdly thin and an industry with sneering contempt for its audience. (“Animate it, charge 3-D prices and their parents will grit their teeth and bear it!”)
Reflex Animation took a cute idea and a feeble script then lined up a “name” voice cast to overcompensate.
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler and George Takei — funny folks, one and all. Yet there's barely a laugh in it. Wilson voices Reggie, a scrawny Jeremiah at his turkey farm, the one guy to figure out why he and his flock are being fattened up. “Turkeys are dumb,” he narrates as his peers clap as friends and family are dragged off to “turkey paradise.”
But Reggie is that lucky bird who wins a presidential pardon. Reggie has barely settled into a pampered life of pizzas and TV watching at Camp David when the demented Jake (Harrelson) shows up to birdnap him and enlist Reggie in his mission — to steal the secret Camp David time machine, travel back to early America and change Thanksgiving history, “to get turkey off the menu.”
In 1621 Plymouth, the Pilgrims are starving — save for the portly Gov. Bradford (Dan Fogler). Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) is a trigger-happy menace who figures he can turkey-hunt the colony to safety.
The sight gags fall flat and much of the screenplay seems like a rough draft that the filmmakers expected the actors to fix. And they didn't.
Frozen, undercooked and sorely lacking much in the way of “all the trimmings,” this turkey isn't ready to serve.
Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.