You may need a PhD to follow the first 20 minutes of the new animated film “Free Birds.”
Most modern cartoons embrace a frenetic approach to storytelling, eschewing the quiet grace of “Bambi”and “Dumbo” for roller coaster action. ”Free Birds” serves up a plot so knotted up it needs a Boy Scout to untie. Fathers will put the pieces together, but younger viewers might struggle to follow a clever turkey trying to change Thanksgiving forever.
Shortly after Reggie is spared he meets a brawny turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson) who wants to travel back in time to stop the first turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. Jake recruits Reggie for the mission, and the two go back to the very first Thanksgiving dinner courtesy of a time-traveling egg voiced by Sulu himself, George Takei.
Complicated, right? And this is the streamlined version.
Will Jake and Reggie prevent the slaughter of turkeys for generations to come? Can Reggie set aside his nebbishy manners to woo a plucky bird (Amy Poehler) he meets during his time travel escapades?
“Free Birds” isn’t witty enough to survive its over-plotted story, but it manages to win audiences over with its sheer force of will. Wilson and Harrelson are terrific together, and the film makes you wish they’d team up for a live-action comedy rather than a “Free Birds” sequel. The animators deliver strong character portraits, turning pedestrian punch lines into genuine crowd pleasers.
Once more, Hollywood wants to entertain the kids AND the adults with its animated confection. How else can you explain a Cheech & Chong reference mid-film? Don’t worry, Dads, it’s not pot related. Honest.
Children will enjoy the colorful landscapes and the highly expressive features of the key characters. Harrelson is particular good playing a blowhard we can’t help but love, and the crack animation team does his voice justice. The time travel elements are absurd even by the genre’s slippery standards, though younger minds will be far more forgiving and simply go along for the ride.
“Free Birds” won’t go down as a holiday classic, nor I suspect will kids be clamoring for a second or third viewing. Parents could still do a lot worse than spend 90-odd minutes with these fowl friends.
Lessons Learned: It’s all right to be unique, loyalty matters and we’re all capable of doing great things if we stick to our principles and never quit.
Parents, Beware: Early talk of “comrades” and freedom-style guerilla movements smack a bit too close to socialist yearnings, but that early blather amounts to nothing of the kind. Like the rest of the movie, “Free Birds” disintegrates upon even casual inspection and can’t be taken seriously.