Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Writer
Most animation studios develop a clear style throughout their whole filmography, and their first feature is key in defining it. Pixar has Toy Story, Disney has Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and now Reel FX Creative Studios has their first animated feature released in theaters, the turkey comedy Free Birds. But while Toy Story and Snow White showcased some very distinct styles for the first two companies, there’s nothing about Free Birds that sets it apart from a direct to DVD Dreamworks film.
A mix of Chicken Run and The Terminator, the film follows social outcast Reggie (Owen Wilson) who is chosen as the turkey to be pardoned for Thanksgiving by the president. Then he’s recruited by Jake (Woody Harrelson), a member of the “Turkey Freedom Front,” to travel back in time to stop the first iteration of the holiday from taking place, and most importantly, to “keep turkeys off the menu.” Back in time they join with a flock that includes a love interest for Reggie (Amy Poehler) to take down the settlers of the new world. It’s a modestly funny premise that ends up getting lost along the way, when it forgets it’s weirder elements, such a the talking egg-shaped time machine S.T.E.V.E., voiced by George Takei. It becomes driven by the very basic plot and the stock character journey of the “misfit who finds a home” for Reggie.
The jokes aren’t memorable, but the film at least avoids what has been deemed the “Dreamworks model”: Aside from some Star Trek and Indiana Jones homages and one Angry Birds joke, these talking animals don’t crack pop culture references every other minute and do the Dreamworks face. That isn’t to say the humor is anything inventive, the film is filled with jokes about Jake’s butt, Reggie being emasculated, and (somewhat offensively) the love interest’s lazy eye.
The animation is also key in the debut of any studio, and that might be where Reel FX falters most. The turkeys themselves have a decent enough design and movement to them, but everything else is fairly horrible. Backgrounds have very little detail to them, animals like horses and dogs look like bizarre crosses between animated characters and stuffed animals. The human beings (who take up a surprising amount of the film) look about as bad as those Pixar animated way back in the 90s. The fact that Reel FX is animating like this in 2013 doesn’t suggest much for their future, nor does the quality of the film.
Director Jimmy Hayward was at least able to conjure up some more inventive visuals in the Dr. Seuss adaptation of Horton Hears a Who!, which he co-directed in 2008. Here everything is bland and forgettable, the only memorable item being the time machine (which itself is just an amalgamation of those from other science fiction movies). Free Birds doesn’t have much going for it, but it doesn’t have a lot against it either, agreeing to settle into mediocrity.