Free Birds is more proof, as if 2013 needed it, that Hollywood has almost killed the animated goose that laid the golden egg. No matter that in this case, the goose is a turkey.
This year has produced the clever and heartfelt The Croods and the passably amusing Despicable Me 2, but Epic, Monsters University, Planes, Escape From Planet Earth, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Turbo all hint at a talent pool spread absurdly thin and an industry with sneering contempt for its audience. ("Animate it, charge 3-D prices, and parents will grit their teeth and bear it!")
The people behind Free Birds make the same mistakes that generations of animators made before them, having a cute idea and a feeble script, and overcompensating with a "name" voice cast.
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler and George Takei — funny folks, one and all. Yet there's barely a laugh in Free Birds.
Wilson voices Reggie, a scrawny Jeremiah at his turkey farm, the one guy to figure out why he and his flock are being fattened up. "Turkeys are dumb," he narrates as his peers clap when friends and family are dragged off to "turkey paradise."
But Reggie is that lucky bird who wins a presidential pardon. He has barely settled into a pampered life of pizzas and TV watching at Camp David when the demented Jake (Harrelson) shows up to birdnap him and enlist Reggie in his mission: to steal the secret Camp David time machine, travel back to early America and change Thanksgiving history, "to get turkey off the menu."
In 1621 Plymouth, Jake and Reggie must win over the native flock (Poehler among them) to save them and the turkeys of the future.
The few gags there are seem borrowed from better, earlier films: turkeys with short attention spans inspired by Dory of Finding Nemo, Braveheart battle scenes, mismatched "buddies" from a hundred better buddy comedies.
The odd throwaway line works. But the sight gags fall flat, and much of the screenplay seems like a rough draft that the filmmakers — Jimmy Hayward directed the superior Horton Hears a Who — expected the actors to fix. They didn't.
Casting Takei ("Oh, my!") as the time machine will amuse adults. Giving him little more than his catch-phrase to say won't.
Frozen, undercooked and sorely lacking much in the way of "all the trimmings," this turkey isn't ready to serve.
PG for some action/peril and rude humor. Relativity. 1:31. 2D: Winchester. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Richmond, Woodhill.