Owen Wilson voices Reggie and Amy Poehler Jenny in 'Free Birds.' (Relativity Media)
“Free Birds” is more proof, as if 2013 needed it, that Hollywood has almost killed the animated goose that laid the golden egg. The goose in this case is a turkey.
A start-up division called Reflex Animation makes the same mistakes that generations of animators made before them, having a cute idea and a feeble script to go with it, lining up a “name” voice cast to over-compensate.
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler and George Takei all are funny folks. Yet there’s barely a laugh in it. The strain shows.
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. But Reggie is that lucky bird who wins a presidential pardon.
Reggie 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, the Pilgrims are starving — save for the portly Gov. Bradford (Dan Fogler). Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) is a trigger-happy menace who figures he can turkey-hunt the colony to safety.
And the Massachusetts turkeys themselves? They’re natives — as in painted up, like Washington Redskins mascots. Jake and Reggie must win over the native flock (Poehler and Keith David among them) to save them and turkeys of the future.
The odd throw-away line works. The president’s daughter is a 6-year-old blabbermouth who blurts out to Reggie that this general “has issues” and that overweight maid “eats her feelings.” And Gov. Bradford is forever minimizing his responsibility for the dying colonists.
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. And they didn’t.
Frozen, undercooked and sorely lacking much in the way of “all the trimmings,” this turkey isn’t ready to serve.
Rated PG for some action/peril and rude humor
Running time: 91 minutes