In the 3D animated kids’ movie Free Birds, a couple of turkeys time-travel back to the first Thanksgiving to get their species off the menu. The movie’s animal rights, vegetarian message should go down easily with politically correct parents – at least until they choke on the offensive depiction of 17th-century turkeys as face-painted, headband-wearing native Americans.
The entire movie, written by Kevin Smith’s producing partner, Scott Mosier, and director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!), is well-intended but maladroit, with a clever premise and cute animation that are undermined by the trite sci-fi parody plot and manic, unfunny banter.
Owen Wilson provides the voice of Reggie, a smart, misfit bird who can’t get his fellow turkeys’ beaks out of the corn long to acknowledge their imminent execution. But when he’s picked by the U.S. president’s daughter as the official White House-pardoned turkey, Reggie turns from prophet to sybarite at his rustic Camp David cabin, gobbling delivery pizzas and Mexican soap operas.
The easy life ends when he’s kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), the zealous, dopey leader of the Turkey Liberation Front who persuades Reggie to help hijack the government’s top-secret, egg-shaped time machine (robot voiced by George Takei) and go back to Plymouth Colony in 1621 to reset the holiday meal.
The movie’s action-crammed second half drops pointless references to Braveheart to Pocahontas (with Amy Poehler as the Chief Broadbeak’s daughter, Jenny), but beyond giving kids second thoughts about fighting for the drumsticks, there’s little reason to be thankful for this undercooked, over-stuffed effort.