Movie Review

Free Birds

MPAA Rating: PG for some action/peril and rude humor.

reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
CONTRIBUTOR

Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids
Genre:
Animation Comedy Kids
Length:
1 hr. 30 min.
Year of Release:
2013
USA Release:
November 1, 2013 (wide—3,500+ theaters)
DVD: February 4, 2014
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Relativity Media

being different from the group

self-sacrifice

responsibility

friendship

forgiveness

birds in the Bible

Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving

THANKFULNESS—Tips for New and Growing Christians—GO

Are you thankful to God? GO

Kid Explorers™
Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.

Featuring: Woody HarrelsonJake (voice)
Owen WilsonReggie (voice)
Amy Poehler … Jenny (voice)
Keith David … Chief Broadbeak (voice)
Dan FoglerGovernor Bradford (voice)
Colm Meaney … Myles Standish (voice)
George Takei … S.T.E.V.E. (voice)
Carlos Alazraqui … Amos (voice)
Lesley Nicol … Pilgrim Woman (voice)
Josh Lawson … (voice)
Dwight Howard … Cold Turkey (voice)
David S. Lee … Hunter #2 (voice)
Elisa Gabrielli … (voice)
Kaitlyn Maher … President’s Daughter (voice)
Danny Carey … Danny (voice)
Rik Michul … (voice)
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Producer: Reel FX Creative Studios
Relativity Media
Scott Mosier … producer
David I. Stern … executive producer
John J. Strauss … executive producer
Aron Warner … executive producer
Distributor: Relativity Media

Thanksgiving. A time to get together with family and friends, sit around the table and indulge in a joyous meal, in thanks for all we have been given. It’s a memorable holiday loved by all, unless you’re the turkey, of course. And that leads us to this year’s thanksgiving-based film, “Free Birds.”

Meet Reggie. Reggie (played by Owen Wilson) is not your average bird. He’s kind of the outcast of the group. He acts different, thinks different, and even looks different than everyone else. He feels no sense of purpose. Then, one day, the President of the United States chooses him as the pardoned turkey (the one they won’t eat), where he enjoys a life of luxury with the president’s daughter.

But wait! There’s more. One night, while indulging in pizza, he is kidnapped by a turkey named Jake. Jake informs Reggie that the two of them have been chosen for a special mission, to go back in time to the first Thanksgiving and get turkeys “off the menu.” So the two break into a top-secret government facility, go back in time, and, well, the rest you will have to see for yourself…

While driving home this afternoon, one thought that came to mind was that there really aren’t a lot of Thanksgiving children’s films that come to my mind (and trust me I would remember, being the movie fanatic I am). So it stands to reason that a cartoon about turkeys going back in time might serve as a pretty decent flick to go see, even if it is a children’s film. Originally, I saw the trailer months ago and said, “No way, no thanks (yes, an intentional pun).” And while I did decide to review “Free Birds,” I still walked away after an hour and half spent (not completely in vain) but in a mixed state of wonder, confusion, and a sense of “were the critic right” feeling.

Look, this movie is targeted with children in mind. I’m for Thanksgiving films, as long as they are portrayed in a positive manner. “Free Birds” does that to some extent… emphasis on “some”… and in other senses it doesn’t. There are hidden nuances and messages that are going to go over most children’s heads but they’re a little disconcerting. The colonists, even the non-villains, are portrayed in a not so positive light, with the purpose to make peace with the Native Americans so they could provide and help the colonists with food (as we see the villagers complaining to the governor of the town without end concerning hunger), which is true but not the only reason we wanted to make peace with the Native Americans. Another instance? During a flashback of one of the main characters, Jake escapes from a factory where scientists are shown fattening turkeys with the use of chemicals, kept in cages, once again portraying humans in an evil light. There are other scenes I can mention where this message is seen (like the turkeys from the first Thanksgiving in war paint), but I won’t go much further.

Should this concern parents? Perhaps. Did it concern me a little, as this is a children’s film, fictitious as it is? Well, yes. The problem with movies and media in general is they have a profound affect on children, more powerful than we can ever imagine. They may (or may not) learn the proper history in school, but what they see on film always plays a part in their understanding and overall development of opinion, making it hard for some children, and I say some, to discern opinion from fact. Many parents are becoming more and more cautious, even of children’s movies, because of content and messages, and I respect and applaud that.

Lest anyone think I am just bashing the movie’s flaws, on a more positive note, even without those messages, I still found this film to be a lot of fun to watch, and actually pretty funny without too much rude humor (there are jokes some of the children won’t get). “Free Birds” is short enough to get a good story in (with some added minor plot points that didn’t always make sense), without dragging, and the performances by some of the characters, including Owen Wilson, is actually pretty decent.

“Free Birds” is rated PG, and I felt that is appropriate. There is content to be aware of though.

Violence: Most of the violence in this film is in the form of slapstick humor. Reggie is slapped in the face a bunch of times. There’s a scene where three turkeys are shown falling down a hill. There is a scene where a building explodes. There are a couple scenes where hunters are shooting turkeys and another scene where the hunters find the turkeys’ home and burn it to smoke them out. There is also a scene where a character dies, as well as (for humor purposes), where an old villager dies quickly of age.

Language: The most offensive profanity that I came across was from Jake, when he is given his task, mentioning that he received his mission from The Great Turkey (which I thought was an inappropriate poke at our Lord God). There’s a reference to spitting worms into another baby turkey’s mouth. Other mild bad language includes, “weirdo,” “idiot,” “stupid,” “shut up” and “bleeding” (British slang).

Sex/Nudity: As mentioned, there’s a reference to waddling made about two turkeys. Reggie and Jenny (his love interest) do eventually kiss. One scene that is most inappropriate was when the villagers discover pizza, one villager uses a piece and places it on his private area (a major red flag for me).

Certainly there are admirable themes of bravery, self sacrifice, and being accepted for our differences. But, this movie revolves around Thanksgiving and so the “real” moral is that we are to be grateful for what we have, even our differences, and that we are able to share because of God’s love and mercy. He provides in our darkest and finest hour, always giving us what we need, not always what we want though. His love endures and strengthens, and we are to be grateful for what we have (home, family, whatever it is).

What should we thank God for, and how should we praise Him? Answer

It’s hard for me to give an exact answer as to whether or not I recommend “Free Birds.” I’m divided. Critics aside, I thought it was a decent movie, despite the underlying messages (an annoyingly common themes in a lot of today’s movies). The characters are fun, the story, while dark in some scenes, is overall a light funny story to watch, but with some content to look out for (sexual jokes, The Great Turkey references, slapstick humor and moderate violence). I would see it again if it came to DVD, but perhaps I would suggest that parents should save their money. If the kids, are begging to see it, “Free Birds” isn’t a bad choice for some Christian families (I wouldn’t take children under the age of 8), but it may be one that some children may have a lot of questions to ask about later.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy

THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY—Why do Americans celebrate it? Answer

What is the origin of America’s annual Thanksgiving Day? Answer

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Although I felt a little embarrassed without the grandkids, this is a movie for all ages. The animation is not state-of-the-art, but better than Saturday morning cartoons, and the story line will hold your interest. The positive messages in the movie, like sacrifice, responsibility, friendship and forgiveness were not presented in a distinctly Christian manner, but the director couldn’t resist adding a subtle image of a cross in the opening and closing scenes. Don’t rush out at the end, as there is a final scene part way through the credits.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Brian Schacht, age 66 (Canada)
Neutral
Neutral—I second the viewer’s point of view that the movie was casting a negative light on a positive occasion. However, I believe that the movie accurately portrayed the living conditions of factory-farmed turkeys (being kept in tight cages and injected with hormones to make them grow faster). Farm raised animals are in another ballpark, and yet, many of them are still killed for food, as were the “freer” birds roaming around during the first thanksgiving.

Whenever I see a film where animals are mistreated I feel awful, and I say a prayer to Adonai and remember where in Isaiah 65:25, He says, “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock; and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, ” saith the Lord.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: ½
—Luke, age 30 (USA)
Negative
Negative—Even though we were given a disclosure at the beginning of the movie that historical accuracy was not present and was not the goal of the film, I was still bothered by it. If it was not historically accurate, then why use the names Standish and Bradford. The Pilgrims were shown as beastly, out of control hunters, who whined and had no faith in God. Crazy! This was the a horrible portrayal of these men. Standish was a villain, and and Bradford was a glutinous, scattered brained, wimp of a leader.

We spent the drive home undoing the picture of what had now been comically engraved on the minds of our children when they hear the names Bradford and Standish in association with Plymouth. Sorry, truth matters in our world. Like it or not this sends a message. None of this was in the trailer or we would not have gone at all.

We were expecting a Chicken-little kind of story. I know many may find this trite. Our Christian heritage matters. I am a history buff, I love it. Perhaps that is why I found this so troubling. Yes, I know it was to be funny. I read somewhere else where a review said “If these men were alive, they would have grounds for a deformation of character lawsuit.” I agree.

We have enjoyed many movies with these actors in the past. I just think this one missed the mark.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Tammy, age 44 (USA)
Negative—This is turkey movie. Why egg as time machine?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Thomas Dicknensheets, age 52 (USA)
Negative—I saw the movie yesterday, from the beginning till the end I saw they were trying to portray men and science as their own gods and Christians as useless and stupid people living a lie. I’m not trying to go to the extreme here, the main character was always criticizing the believers and at the very end he was the god that his friend was seeing since he was little when he received his friend visit from the future.

Clearly the message was that there is no god and that science and evolution (when the main character is shown going too back in time in a screen you see evolution) are the answers to existence. Also, once more the lack of character in men to be a leader and is replaced by a woman.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Norberto, age 36 (USA)
Comments from non-viewers
Positive—Although I haven’t seen this movie I would like to, since I love animated things such as cartoons. And as for some people saying that Bradford and Standish were not portrayed correctly in the film: it’s a kid’s movie! Historical films are one thing, but this movie was meant to be goofy, so it’s understandable that there isn’t going to be any truth to it. And besides, knowing how kids are, I don’t think they care anyway (I know I wouldn’t of cared as a kid). Everything doesn’t have to be so serious. But other than that, seems like a great movie.
—T., age 20 (USA)

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