The very best animated films operate on any number of levels, appealing to the broadest of audiences, usually working in different ways for different age groups. Free Birds definitely entertained the many children in the theatre at the screening I attended, especially the youngest ones. Adults were a very different story.
Reggie (Wilson), a turkey that just doesn’t fit in, is selected by the U.S. president to be “liberated” because the first daughter falls for him. He ends up in the White House where he is grabbed by Jake (Harrelson), a member of the Turkey Liberation Front. Together they travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving celebration via a secret government time-machine experiment. There they will remove turkey from the menu, thereby liberating millions of birds over the next centuries from the annual holiday slaughter. Once back in time, they hook up with a flock of turkeys that espouse nonviolence. Reggie falls for and hangs out with Jenny (Poehler), the chief turkey’s daughter. (Noting that turkeys weren’t even on the menu at the first Thanksgiving misses the point.)
Free Birds falls flat, despite its good intentions, ideological cuteness, humorous polish, and skillful computer animation. The fine voice talents of the almost-ideal cast are wasted. Wilson’s signature whine is muted and I didn’t even recognize Harrelson’s voice until halfway through the movie. Bad history is a meaningless criticism to lob at an animated film, but the film really has no other outstanding attributes. This one is just for the kids.