Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler give voice to Thanksgiving-themed ‘Free Birds’


Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson), left, Reggie (Owen Wilson) and Jenny (Amy Poehler) attempt to turn back the clock on Thanksgiving in “Free Birds.” (Courtesy of Relativity Media)
October 31, 2013

Finally, there’s a movie vegetarian parents can enjoy with their impressionable offspring. The animated ad­ven­ture “Free Birds” follows a couple of modern-day turkeys who travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving and try to alter history, thus saving their brethren for generations to come. With some help from the vocal gifts of Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler and, to a lesser extent, Owen Wilson, the comedy offers even poultry fans a few pleasures.

Reggie (Wilson) is a turkey misfit on his free-range farm. Not only does he look different, with his cornflower blue head and slender frame, but he seems to have a modicum of smarts, which his inbred cohabitants seriously lack. The dimwitted birds think the man with the axe is their friend and that Reggie’s farm-to-table prognostications are the delusions of a misinformed muckraker.

Reggie manages to escape his basted fate thanks to a presidential pardon, but just as he settles in at Camp David and learns about the pleasures of pizza and fuzzy slippers, he’s kidnapped by a turkey who talks like an Army sergeant and looks like the wattled version of a CrossFit devotee. Jake (Harrelson) has some crazy tales of his own: A mystical being directed him to kidnap Reggie and go back in time to stop the Pilgrims and Native Americans from feasting on the birds’ forebears. His ravings turn out to be logical, too, and the pair manage to get to the 17th century, where they join a band of wild turkeys — who happen to be much shrewder than contemporary birds — and prepare to wage war on the hunters.

Catering to both children and their chaperones is a precarious balance. “Free Birds” has the colorful palette, zippy action and silly story to keep kids giggling, but it also delivers a few worthwhile winks to parents. The president’s daughter, for example, is a narcoleptic pinball who knows way too much about what’s going on around her and isn’t afraid to share her feelings about “the girl who likes [her] daddy.” Jake and one of the wild turkeys, another alpha male, get into an entertaining battle of one-upmanship. And George Takei delivers laughs as the artificially uber-intelligent time machine.

But given the heights of the genre, “Free Birds” at times feels derivative. Jake has a short-term memory problem that’s reminiscent of Dory in “Finding Nemo,” and one of the wild turkeys, Jenny (Poehler), has a lazy eye that seems like a cheap bid for quirky individualism. And while the wild turkey chicks are so adorable it hurts a little, they also look exactly like earless Furbys. (The popularity of the Minions from “Despicable Me” may have ensured that future animated features all contain cute cohorts.)

Will “Free Birds” have kids opting for tofurkey come Nov. 28? Probably not. But in the meantime it delivers a nice helping of generation-spanning entertainment.

★★½

PG. At area theaters. Contains action and rude humor. 91 minutes.

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