Looking back at the kids’ films that came out when I was a child and then seeing the stuff that comes out today, I can see a definite difference. One thing is the musical aspect; classics like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King all have some portion of the film where characters break into a pre-planned, well-orchestrated singing. These songs were catchy and added something to the overall narrative. Kids’ films as of late feature none of that; instead they attempt to entice children with flashy three-dimensional visuals and franchises that extend into places that they shouldn’t. Disney is the biggest proponent of the problem and they tend to lean on their own nostalgia to bring fans back in. DreamWorks on the other hand is attempting to innovate in the kid space and bring new and interesting properties to the forefront. The new Jimmy Hayward project entitled Free Birds is one such film that attempts to bring innovation back to where it belongs.
Reggie (Owen Wilson) is a scrawny yet resourceful turkey who randomly gets chosen to be the annual presidential pardoned turkey. While staying in the president’s vacation home, Reggie is confronted by Jake (Woody Harrelson) a forgetful yet fearless turkey who tells Reggie that an angelic spirit turkey has appeared before him and given him a mission: to go back in time and stop turkeys from becoming the main course at the first Thanksgiving. Even though Reggie is reluctant to follow Jake, he does so and both turkeys stumble across a military time machine that warp them back to three days before the first Thanksgiving.
Although at first glance Free Birds looks like your typical, run-of-the-mill, should-have-gone-straight-to-video kids’ film, it most definitely is not. Animation may not be up to Pixar standards but it’s the characters and story that makes the film worth seeing. Both main characters are incredibly well flesh-out with clear motivations that help set them apart. Even side characters aren’t merely cardboard cut-outs but well-written, plausible figures that have a defined place within the story. The story itself has a Back to the Future vibe to it and deals with subjects that adults can appreciated such as parallel realities as well as cause as effect. It also has a lot of heart that lends itself to possibly making you tear up at one point. Children will delight in the cartoonish humor presented throughout with noticeable gags that show the difference between Disney and DreamWorks.
The only qualm I had with Free Birds is a very minor one. Although the film has many funny moments, it doesn’t feature many that are in the gut-busting, laugh-out-loud, range. It may make you chuckle a bit but it won’t necessarily make cry from the amount of outrageous hilarity. Nonetheless, what the film lacks in the humor department it most certainly makes up for in the amount of sheer originality and charisma. If you are looking an extraordinary family film this holiday that will entertain both young and old, Free Birds should be at the top of your list.
FINAL TAKE: 9/11
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About the Movie
Synopsis: Two turkeys travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving in order to get turkey off of the menu.
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Cast: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei
Run time: 91 min