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“Free Birds” Reader Talkback

Dallas animation studio Reel FX makes their big splash into animated features this weekend with the release of their first film Free Birds. Directed by Jimmy Hayward and released by Relativity Media, the film follows the adventures of two turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) who travel back in time to take turkeys off the first Thanksgiving menu.

The film has the dubious distinction of being this year’s worst reviewed animated feature. The average critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes is just 22% positive, which is even lower than Weinstein Co.’s Escape from Planet Earth.

The standard criticism has been that the film is unoriginal, as per Miriam Bale’s review in the New York Times:

It is, quite accurately, I think, as if someone said, “Let’s make Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure starring turkeys!” Some of the same visuals and plot points from that 1980s classic are copied here, without any of its inventiveness and singular tone. It takes a certain brilliance to do dumb well, but the makers of Free Birds have not displayed this quality.

The silver lining is that audiences, especially those with kids, may like this good-natured film. The film currently has a 73% Rotten Tomatoes audience rating which is higher than Epic and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. (Caveat: the sample size of the audience rating is smaller than the other films since the film just opened.)

Now it’s your turn. After you see Free Birds, report back here with your thoughts in the comments below. As always, this talkback is reserved for readers who have seen the film and wish to comment on it. Any general comments about the film will not be approved.

(Free Birds billboard via Daily Billboard)

  • Scott550

    Got to see a free screening of this thing, and I’ll start with the good (and I’ll try and end with it, too). I’ll skip the story outline–you can find that elsewhere.

    The animation, on a per shot basis, is better than the average kids cartoon produced overseas (and I know most of it was animated in texas). There’s a few nice scenes here and there, and a smattering of very well animated ones. ReelFX has some talent there.

    That said, the direction and storytelling (and at heart, the alleged “script,” is scattershot, manic, and unfocused. There are many inappropriate jokes that makes one question who the audience for this really is. It’s not funny for adults, but I suppose for children with very short attention spans, it’s a diversion of some sort. The scenes are not very well staged, and you can tell the animators are handcuffed by poor decisions made out of their control. It’s obvious that no one had a clear idea who these characters are, and how they should move, because the shifts in tone are so abrupt. The series of unfunny gags get in the way of moving what little story there is forward. In competent hands, some of them might have worked, but for the most part, the direction is the weakest I’ve seen in an animated feature in a long time.

    The design of the film is on the cheap looking side, with little thought given to supporting the film. Everything looks like it was designed by a committee who have never made a film before. The characters appear “pasted” over the backgrounds–never looking as though they’re in the scene. And there’s no cohesion or thought given to how shots hook up.

    But the real problem is the script and direction. I’m sure someone could have made something worth almost half an hour out of this, but not this team. It’s alternately sloppy/lazy and manic, as though no one was in charge. Work like this is what keeps animation in the doldrums it’s in.

    The one other good thing about it is Woody Harrelson. His voice is well suited to animation, even if he struggles to figure out what to do with this lame material and piss-poor direction.

    Overall, I’d say skip it, or watch it on TV. Commercial breaks would probably make it more palatable. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see it.

  • Funkybat

    I too was amazed to see that John K. had done some early concept sketches for this film. I wonder if he was only involved during the Ash Brannon stage. The art side of things looks professional, but definitely in a different vein than John K.