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Free Birds (2013)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/4/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/14/2014
I grew up in the heyday of holiday specials. And while some of this time was before the days of home video and decades before video-on-demand, it was an imperative that one be in front of the television when those specials had their annual airing. It reached a point where it felt like every character had a holiday special of some kind, and while Christmas was clearly the favorite, no major special day went untouched. (Especially from those Peanuts guys.) However, we've gotten away from those traditions. Sure, we've seen holiday specials with the Dreamworks animation characters and I seem to remember the gang from Toy Story doing something holiday related, but it's not like it used to be. Thus, it was kind of surprising to see a studio CG-animated movie about Thanksgiving. How will Free Birds measure up to the holiday classics?
As Free Birds opens, we meet Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson), a turkey who feels alone in the world, despite the fact that he's surrounded by others of his kind. Reggie attempts to be the voice of reason and warn the other turkeys on the farm that they are all being fattened up for Thanksgiving, but apparently turkeys aren't very bright and no one will listen to him. One day, the President (voiced by Jimmy Hayward) and his daughter (voiced by Kaitlyn Maher), visit the farm to choose the turkey for annual Thanksgiving Presidential pardon, and Reggie is selected. He travels with them to Camp David and finds himself in the lap of luxury, where he spends his time watching TV and eating pizzas. This all ends when he's accosted by a turkey named Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson), who tells Reggie that they have been chosen to travel back in time and stop Thanksgiving. Reggie assumes that Jake is crazy until they do find a secret lab which houses a time machine. The pair travel to 1621 and immediately meet a group of turkeys lead by Ranger (voiced by Hayward) and Jenny (voiced by Amy Poehler). The local settlers are starving and their main hunter, Myles Standish (voiced by Colm Meaney), has set his sights on turkeys. It's up to Jake and Reggie to pair with their ancestors to fight back and take turkey off of the menu.
Free Birds is a tough movie to judge. The concept is both simple and ingenious -- as turkeys are the #1 entree served at Thanksgiving, it makes sense that would want to put a stop to this is they could. The time travel element clearly comes from late-night round-table discussions which start with "If you could go back in time and stop _____, would you?" Once the setting moves to the past, we get a good mixture of new turkey characters and the settlers, who are represented by Standish and Governor Bradford (voiced by Dan Fogler). The movie is well-paced and has truly funny lines. (Especially one of the names the other turkeys call Reggie.) Even the most hardened viewer will find themselves "aahhing" over the baby turkeys.
The real weak link with Free Birds is Jake. Rarely has the introduction of a character so de-railed a movie. The opening of the film is surprisingly loose and funny, really drawing in the viewer. Jake initially comes across as mean and violent, and (as my kids pointed out) his memory issues make him very reminiscent of Dory fromFinding Nemo. He is dropped into the movie like a grenade, nearly destroying all of the goodwill which the film has mustered. He eventually becomes somewhat more likable, but despite having Woody Harrelson voiced the character, Jake is not the fun and nutty presence which the filmmakers clearly wanted him to be.
Overall Free Birds has its pros and cons and if it was the only CG animated movie in existence, it would be considered a classic. But, here's the thing: other CG animated films do exist, and many of them are much, much better than Free Birds. The movie is so middle-of-the-road that one has to wonder what the filmmakers goals were. Director Jimmy Hayward directedHorton Hears A Who!, which was fairly solid, but he also made Jonah Hex, which had it's problems. Hayward spent many years at Pixar as an animator, so I'm sure that he's glad to be in the director's chair, but why aim for the middle. The weird thing about Free Birds is that it was co-written and produced by Scott Mosier, who has been Kevin Smith's partner for years. If I'd known going in that Mosier was involved, I would have expected a much more bizarre movie, but other than a few jokes which would go over the heads of the kids, the movie's tone and humor never gets wild. I realize that this is a cliche, but Free Birds is the cinematic equivalent of fast food -- you know what you're getting, it's good for the moment, but you instantly forget it.
Free Birds exists in a world where Chuck E. Cheese's delivers for some reason on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. This is clearly a digital-to-digital transfer, as there are no issues to be found. The colors are bold and impressive, most notably the reds and blues. The image is never overly dark or bright. The image is very detailed as we can see every feather on the turkeys and this 2D version still holds a great deal of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are impressive, illustrating sounds coming from off-screen. The surround effects are very strong, most notably during the time-travel sequences and the battle scenes. These provide some detailed effects. The subwoofer action is nice as well, providing bass which doesn't overwhelm the dialogue.
The Free Birds Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "Birds Flipping History" (87 seconds) retells the film through an elementary school play. Weird. "Animating Free Birds: The Main Course" (5 minutes) has Director Jimmy Hayward and his team explaining how one of the scenes came together from storyboarding, to having the animators act out the scene, to the final animation. "Winging It: Animators in Action" (5 minutes) brings us more examples of the animators acting out certain actions and scenes to serve as reference points. In "Talking Turkey with Composer Dominic Lewis" (6 minutes) the film's score is discussed and we get to see Lewis at work in the studio. "Shake a Tail Feather" (24 seconds) is a short promo which features Reggie and Jake dancing. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long