As a father of two children, I have grown to appreciate the solid, workmanlike dependability of your average animated family film.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m always thrilled when a “Toy Story 3” or a “Despicable Me” comes along and does something that goes above and beyond.
But really, what I and most parents want is something that will entertain the kids for an hour and a half, maybe make me chuckle a few times, and, most importantly, make me not consider drowning myself in my neighbor’s 32-gallon soda.
It’s a low bar to be sure, but there are plenty of movies that come along that still fail to clear it. That is why I am here today to praise the glorious mediocrity of “Free Birds.”
At the very least it gets points for originality as the plot centers on two turkeys going back in time to change the menu of the first Thanksgiving.
The hero of our story is Reggie (Owen Wilson), a turkey outcast whose life changes when he receives the President’s annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon. He gets flown off to Camp David where he enjoys a cushy life of ordering takeout pizza and watching telenovellas.
But Reggie’s life is in for another abrupt change when he is kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), a brawny, but not very bright turkey on a mission to change the course of history.
Jake and Reggie break into a top-secret military installation and hijack a time machine named S.T.E.V.E (which is cleverly voiced by George Takei) and travel back to Plymouth on the eve of the first Thanksgiving.
“Free Birds” understandably doesn’t strive for historical accuracy and we are presented with a villainous Miles Standish (Colm Meaney), who relentlessly hunts a flock of proud and resourceful wild turkeys that Jake and Reggie vow to save.
There’s even a little avian romance thrown in for good measure as Reggie falls for the chief’s daughter, Jenny (Amy Poehler).
You can tell that no one is really sweating the details here as the plot careens around and there’s not much in the way of character development or underlying themes. Pixar this ain’t.
But still, there are some good gags, the cast is incredibly likable and, most importantly, it held my kids’ attention the entire time.
Visually there’s nothing all that spectacular going on so there’s no need to shell out the extra money to see it in 3D unless one of your hobbies is setting piles of cash on fire.
“Free Birds” was directed by Jimmy Hayward, who helmed the enjoyable “Horton Hears a Who!” and then proved he should stick with animation with the really, really bad “Jonah Hex.” After that one, he should be really pleased with reaching unspectacular heights with “Free Birds.”
But maybe that’s part of the lesson here, as animated family films might be the only genre where you can get away with being sloppy and formulaic, just as long as you never stop being entertaining.
In that respect “Free Birds” works its tail feathers off, and while it proves that you truly can’t soar with the eagles if you’re surrounded by turkeys, sometimes it’s OK to just hang out with the flock on a blustery Saturday afternoon.
“Free Birds” is rated PG for some action/peril and rude humor.