Free Birds (2013)
Voice performances of Woody Harrelson, George Takei, and Owen Wilson
Directed by Jimmy Hayward
Released by Relativity Media
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 18% Fresh
My Rating: ONE of Four Stars
My kids had been pestering me to take them to see the Thanksgiving-themed animated comedy Free Birds since its first coming attractions aired back in October. When it came out, I was not impressed by the initial reviews and so did not rush to take them to see it. However, this week it showed up at our nearby discount theater, University Mall Theater, which has just switched over to digital projection. (A couple of notes about digital projection: the picture and sound are galaxies superior to the old, worn-out, third-run 35 millimeter prints this theater used to show; but the conversion required the theater to dump their nostalgic, 1970’s-era featurettes, such as “Let’s All Go to the Lobby, Let’s All Go to the Lobby, Let’s All Go to the Lobby — and Buy Ourselves Some Snacks! Delicious treats to eat… etc.” This was a little disappointing.)
I figured I could handle a PG animated comedy. I didn’t expect it to raise my anxiety levels by much at all; most PG animated films are pleasantly sedating for me right now. Warning: many spoilers ahead, so please stop reading if you plan to see Free Birds and want to be surprised.
I’ll admit that I adored the first fifteen minutes of the film. It was loaded with terrific jokes, and lots of people in the audience (yours truly included) laughed heartily and frequently. I started doubting my critical judgement; I was enjoying this as much as I did the better parts of Turbo, an earlier animated comedy which had also received mixed reviews. I began to wonder whether my doctor-prescribed regimen of psychotropic drugs had sedated my critical sensibility. How could the reviews for Free Birds have been so bad if I was enjoying it so much? What a way to doubt oneself! But within a few minutes, my critical reaction to the movie began lining up with the 18% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film began going downhill when Jake, the character voiced by Woody Harrelson, appeared. The Owen Wilson turkey was animated to look somewhat like a real turkey; Jake, however, looked like an eagle with some turkey characteristics. This continued to be a major distraction throughout the rest of the film; some of the turkeys looked like turkey vultures, others looked like eagles, and one even looked like Foghorn Leghorn from Looney Tunes. Some of the turkeys had red faces, and others had blue faces. This was very distracting.
But the film truly began going to hell once the two main characters went back in time in an experimental time machine to two days before the first Thanksgiving. I began to realize that Free Birds was the worst family-oriented holiday movie since the first Home Alone, which introduced the concept of sadistic behavior by children as a source of humor (in a Christmas movie, yet). If Free Birds were a Christmas movie, rather than a Thanksgiving movie, it would have portrayed Santa Claus as a home invading child molester. This movie was written and produced to make children hate and despise the holiday of Thanksgiving. There is no other way to put it. It is nothing more than ultra-liberal propaganda against meat eaters. Other films have hinted at this in a much more humane fashion, such as the classic Charlotte’s Web, with its heroic pig, Wilber, whose spider friend Charlotte saves him from becoming a pork roast. However, animated films which feature non-human carnivores, such as the lions in The Lion King and my blog namesake Fantastic Mr. Fox, do not give the audience a guilt trip over the heroes’ consumption of meat. In Free Birds, the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving is desecrated and lied about. The Pilgrims are presented as entirely venial and without any redeeming qualities, entirely selfish and savage. Their leader, Miles Standish, is portrayed as an even more psychotic version of Clint Eastwood’s character William Mumy from Unforgiven. Even worse, the film lies about history by making it appear that the pre-first Thanksgiving turkeys were never hunted for food by the American Indians, whom the film falsely portrays as noble vegetarians.
Here’s a critic’s admission: I eat Tofurkey for Thanksgiving, because I keep kosher. My house is most usually entirely vegetarian. So I don’t have any animus against vegetarians. But I DO have an animus against propaganda and false history.
The most disgusting (and this takes some doing!) part of the movie is the shameless product placement of Chucky Cheese’s pizza. Another critic’s admission: I recently fed my son Judah a Chucky Cheese’s pizza and happen to be fond of the joint. But Free Birds utilized hoary old time travel paradox cliches to advocate that consumption of turkey on Thanksgiving be replaced by consumption of Chucky Cheese’s pizza! By the time this part of the film arrived, ten minutes prior to the end, I was ready to jump out of my seat and tear this turkey’s wishbone into five pieces.
Another note: I watched this movie with Asher, Judah, and their friend Matthew. Judah typically sits quietly through PG-13 superhero movies and does not flinch at the violent action. Yet during the final third of this PG-rated supposed “family comedy,” little Judah was jerking about in his seat, obviously agitated and upset. The film’s propaganda was getting to him on a subliminal level, instructing him to absolutely HATE the holiday of Thanksgiving. This is absolutely REPREHENSIBLE. All I can say is, SHAME on the makers of this film, the writers and director most especially. This is liberal, anti-meat consumption propaganda at its most raw (pun intended!). The only saving grace after the first fifteen minutes was the voice of George Takei as the time machine. He was soothing and sane, although surrounded by insane, anti-child, anti-family, and anti-American propaganda.
I hated four-fifths of this film with all my heart. And those are not my psychotropic drugs speaking, either.