reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
Animation Comedy Kids
1 hr. 30 min.
Year of Release:
November 1, 2013 (wide—3,500+ theaters)
DVD: February 4, 2014
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
What is the origin of America’s annual Thanksgiving Day? Answer
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
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