Saturday, November 2, 2013

Free Birds [2013]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Moore) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (K. McFarland) review

Free Birds [2013] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Jimmy Hayward along with Scott Mosier, story by David I. Stern and John J. Strauss) is an often cute, if honestly quite disorganized, children's animated feature sending-up the "First Thanksgiving" taking "the turkeys' point of view."  As such, the story runs like a cross between the second Addams' family feature, Addams' Family Values [1993], which sends-up the First Thanksgiving taking the Native Americans' point of view and the children's animated feature Chicken Run [2000] conflating/sending-up writer George Orwell's famous barn-yard fable Animal Farm [IMDb] and the WW II POW escape classic The Great Escape [1963].

The story here runs like this:  Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) a free-thinking turkey if still "bird-brain" (he freely admits that "let's face it, we turkeys are not that bright ...") realizes early in life that Thanksgiving is "a turkey's worst nightmare."  Yet, when he tries to explain to the other turkeys on his farm that their farmer is NOT "their best friend," they look at him with a mixture of incomprehension ("hey, but he gives us, yum, _corn_...") and fear ("are you trying to be some kind of subversive ...").  And he himself sometimes wonders if he's some kind of a crackpot since only the occasional "wild-eyed crazy" turkey would go around telling the other turkeys that "the End is near..." ;-)

Well things change for Reggie when around Thanksgiving suddenly a whole entourage of black limo type cars come to the farm and out comes a really important looking man, the President of the United States (voiced by director Jimmy Hayward) with cameras rolling all around him as part of the "Annual Tradition" of "pardoning" a turkey before Thanksgiving (the rest would, of course, "get the axe.")

Well guess what turkey gets "pardoned?" ;-).  Reggie, of course.  Why Reggie?  Because the President's precocious and somewhat ADD challenged daughter (voiced by Kaitlyn Maher) finds him really, really cute.  So Reggie gets wisked away on the President's helicopter and flown then to the President's retreat at Camp David.

Now what's the life of a "pardoned turkey" at Camp David.  Well, it could have been kinda boring but Reggie makes the best of it.  He starts "ordering pizza" which he finds "way better than corn."  And he gets hooked on a Spanish language Telenovela about a little boy sooo down-on-his-luck/marginalized that he gets thrown out of a Tijuana orphanage before (somehow) growing-up and becoming the richest and most popular man in town.  How?  It's not clear, but what a story!  (Now why was this little and rather strange "Hispanic" bit added to this particular children's animated film?  Again, I have no idea, but perhaps a similarity is being drawn between the "wish fulfillment fantasies" present in some Spanish language Telenovelas and the "wish fulfillment fantasy" playing out here ... even turkeys winning respect and freedom.  But it's an odd/confusing addition potentially equating the plight of many poorer/more marginalized Hispanics today with turkeys.  And I've written before that I often do not like how Hollywood often portrays Hispanics in today's films [1] [2]).

Still, people in general don't fare well in this "turkey drama."  When the film moves on to "the first Thanksgiving" -- how? via a secret "time-machine" being developed by Camp David, the "time-machine'
s" avatar being named "Steve" (voiced by George Takei) -- the Pilgrim settlers are shown to be led by a rather self-serving (and rather well fed while the rest are hungry) Governor Bradford (voiced by Dan Fogler) and his rather sadistic hunter/enforcer Miles Standish (voiced by Colm Meaney).  And even the Native Americans are portrayed as rather dim-witted (they do nothing).  Their chief, Massassoit (voiced by Robert Beltran), has all of one line in the film. Observing _the turkeys_ lining-up to attack the Pilgrim settlement to free their comrades about to be beheaded/plucked/cooked and served for dinner, he tells his fellow warriors: "Those are some angry birds." ;-)

How then to get "turkeys off the menu"?  Reggie comes up with a rather creative (and contemporary solution ;-). 

Anyway, it's a generally happy/goofy story and yet chock full of landmines.  The idea itself was cool, but gosh, I do honestly think I could have come-up with a less problematic/offensive plot-trajectory than this.

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