When you think about all the children’s movies out there, animated or live action, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that just doesn’t get that much play (though Chinese New Year also gets a similar cold shoulder). But Relativity Media’s Free Birds - formerly known by the less-than-clever name Turkeys - is here to change that. In fact, it’s here to change Thanksgiving forever.
The film’s first trailer, courtesy of Apple, is actually funnier than I thought it would be, but not by much. That said, I’m still pretty into the premise, and I think it could allow for a wide range of clever storytelling, though I’m not entirely sure I trust the writers involved - including John J. Strauss (The Wild) and David I. Stern (Open Season 2), who did the story, and writers Jimmy Hayward and Scott Mosier. If they completely squash all my disbelief, I’ll be first in line to eat humble pumpkin pie.
As the trailer so eloquently shows us, Reggie – voiced by Owen Wilson – is a turkey who finds himself thrown out of his coop (is that what turkeys have?), only to get pardoned by the President of the United States, who just happens to sound a lot like Bill Clinton for some strange reason. Just as Reggie is finding himself living one of the most privileged lives that a turkey can live – going so far as to ask, “Does it get any better than this?” – Woody Harrelson’s turkey, Jake, shows up to turn Reggie’s pizza-filled life upside-down.
The goal is to travel back in time and change history forever - quite an ambitious goal for two talking birds. Jake takes Reggie back to the very first Thanksgiving celebration in order to remove turkeys as the main focus for the holiday meal. Because their trip to the year 1621 doesn’t happen until the trailer is two-thirds over, I wonder how much of the movie will be set in the present and how much will go back to the past. After all, that’s when Amy Poehler and Colm Meaney's character come into play. You can’t have turkeys trying to start a revolution without a bad guy, of course.
Free Birds is directed by Jimmy Hayward, who gave us the enjoyable Dr. Seuss tale Horton Hears a Who and the disjointed comic book adaptation Jonah Hex, so it isn’t entirely clear how strong his influence will be here. Everything looks crisp and clean enough, even if it doesn’t have a truly distinct style. If I have one hypothetical gripe, it is the team of yellow pseudo-HazMat suit wearing guys whose main trait is an annoying group chuckle that appears several times in the trailer. They remind me of those aggravating Minions from Despicable Me, but at least these guys talk.
With a supporting cast that includes George Takei, Keith David, Lesley Nicol, Dan Fogler and NBA star Dwight Howard, Free Birds has a good chance to be top bird at the box office when it hits theaters on November 1st.