Free Birds: A Fun Family Movie Just in Time for Thanksgiving – A Christian Perspective & Review!
“I’m not going to dress it up: turkeys are dumb.”
Reggie, perhaps the only intelligent turkey in his flock, has always been an outsider thanks to the low intelligence of his farm-fed companions, and he sums it up well in that opening line. He has tried year after year to convince his fellow turkeys that the farmer is just fattening them all up to eat them—to no avail. However, when Reggie’s farm is selected to offer the “pardon turkey” for the annual ritual with the President of the United States, Reggie finds himself in front of news cameras next to the President: he has been chosen to be the pardon turkey.
His new life offers him not only freedom from the annual threat of Thanksgiving but also a cushy presidential-styled life at Camp David. However, when an eccentric turkey named Jake kidnaps Reggie and sneaks them both into a top secret government facility containing a time machine, Reggie finds himself unwillingly thrust into an epic mission: travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving and change events so that turkeys are no longer on the menu.
The animators behind Shrek and the director of Toy Story bring us Free Birds, an epic turkey-fest billed comically as “the greatest turkey movie of all time.” Although it is certainly not the funniest animated movie of all time and not as good as either Shrek or Toy Story, I had a good time with Free Birds. It has some fantastic voice actors for the lead parts: Owen Wilson (who did Lightning McQueen in Cars), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), the legendary Woody Harrelson, and George Takei of Star Trek fame. The movie is very silly 80% of the time, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, the characters have a believable charm that makes you care about them, and the visuals during the time traveling are spectacular. For some reason, the Storm Trooper-like yellow government goons in the beginning were especially funny; I wish they had been featured more prominently.
The movie is eager to make fun of itself and be as silly as possible; however, at a certain point, it turns into a very serious drama as if the director had suddenly decided to make an animated version of a Spielberg Oscar winner, except with animated turkeys instead of live action humans. Despite this sudden change in tone and its abrupt return to silliness afterwards, I think the movie pulls it off (just barely) because it worked overtime at making you care about the characters before it turned serious.
For the most part it is a PG-rated family-safe movie. I would not take younger children who have not really graduated from low-intensity G-rated movies—mainly because this film has some intense sequences that would scare younger kids (e.g., when the turkeys are being hunted, when they travel through time, and during a serious, almost tear-jerking sequence). The movie has some emotionally intense moments, such as when a parent turkey heroically (and tragically) sacrifices his life for his child. There is no bad language, no disturbing visuals of violence (other than slap-stick comedy such as rival turkeys slapping each other and wrestling), and no sexually suggestive moments (although technically there is a scene where a TV star is heard calling himself the “greatest lover in the world.”) There is also an odd moment where a clothed human is wearing a slice of pizza over his clothes as if they were underpants. There is a very brief, passing mention of evolution as well as a couple obscure references to astrology that would probably fly right over the heads of children.
Like animated films that feature talking animals, these characters are very anthropomorphic: they are acting, thinking, talking, emoting, and making moral decisions as if they were humans with souls. This, in my opinion, is why talking animal movies are so popular: they are veiled, metaphoric examinations of the human experience.
That being said, this movie—especially in its serious moments—really leans on making these animal characters as human as possible. It almost takes it a little too far, to the point where you’re cheering for a flock of turkeys to defeat the humans even though it would probably mean that the pilgrims would starve and die. Humans can’t catch a break in this movie; these pilgrims were just looking for some food to survive the winter! I would not bother addressing this if the movie had remained silly the entire time, but it gets so serious at a certain point that you begin to wonder if the director really does think turkeys have souls and human reasoning. It’s that over-seriousness that forces me to mention this in the review.
In other words, if I ever watch this movie with my daughter someday, I will probably think seriously about having a conversation with her about what makes animals and humans different, depending on how she reacts to it. The movie doesn’t necessarily have to be avoided; in fact, it might be a great conversation starter with your child to emphasize an important truth: God made humans, not animals, in His image, and animals really are not the same. With so many talking animal movies around and considering that there are worldviews that believe humans are not made in God’s image and not distinct from animals, this is an important topic to discuss with your kids at some point.
Despite its moments of great seriousness, Free Birds is a fun movie and a great choice if your family is looking for something more light-hearted and family-friendly to watch together in between all of the heavy releases (Thor 2 –Read The Christian Review), Hunger Games 2) coming out this month.