Hands up anyone who saw the poster or trailer for this movie and predicted there’d be an Angry Birds joke shoe-horned in there at some point? Well, it takes most of the movie but they do manage to fit a jarringly anachronistic one in there eventually.
The animated 3D exploits of two turkeys who travel back in time to prevent the consumption of the first Thanksgiving turkey, Free Birds opens by firing straight from the hip with not only a comical disclaimer but also the voice of the person reading it (no spoilers, but it’s classic sci-fi with a tinge of internet popularity behind it). From there, the film’s tone as a bashingly surreal yet requisitely child-friendly sci-fi comedy is well-handled, if a little uneven in places. It’s superbly animated (the character of Jenny genuinely looks like an animated turkey version of Amy Poehler), the 3D as effective as is the standard in animated fare these days, and for the most part the comedy works.
One of the better animated efforts of this year, the issues holding Free Birds back stem from the need to appeal to the adults in the audience, all of whom are presumably too distracted at any given point explaining cause-and-effect to their children to be particularly dazzled by the wit of Woody Harrelson, whose appeal to children (if he even has any) is poorly thought-out to say the least. References, for instance, to the later careers of sci-fi actors are something surely no child will laugh at, and any adult will have heard so many times by now that they make for a simply dull punchline.
It is predictable, its resolution does become one of the most horrific pieces of product-placement you’ve seen this year, and the antagonistic relationship between Harrelson’s character and his rival does become annoying after about ten seconds, but Free Birds is really nothing more than a surreal box-ticking exercise, and as such it’s hard to really dislike. You won’t love it, but you won’t leave the cinema foaming at the mouth and out for blood either. It’s a quirky kids movie that simply falls flat in trying to appeal on an adult level at the same time.
Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler