Relativity Media's "Free Birds" is a comical, mostly family friendly animated film starring the voice talents of Owen Wilson (Cars, The Internship, Wedding Crashers, etc...) and Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me, The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Zombieland, etc...). Its plot includes time travelling turkeys, family friendly lessons, and, believe it or not, it alludes to at least a couple philosophical and religious assumptions on the part of the creators of the film.
Reggie is a turkey who lives on a free-range farm in a place that is unknown to the viewers, though the landscape is that of a Midwestern farm. From the beginning we can tell that Reggie is not the same as his more dim-witted flock mates; Reggie is smart. The other turkeys ignore Reggie when he tries to tell them that the farmers don’t really care about them, but that they are only fattening them up to eat.
One day, when an old and seemingly crazy turkey bursts into the turkey house to warn them all that Reggie was right, Reggie thinks that they will finally accept him and that they will all escape with him before being slaughtered. But to his surprise, the entire flock turns on him and offers him up as a sacrifice to the farmers.
It turns out for the best though, because it is actually the presidential family visiting the farm to pick an annual pardoned turkey for Thanksgiving, and Reggie just happens to be lucky enough to be that one. After the ceremony, Reggie is taken back to live with the presidential family, where he discovers Spanish soap operas and cheesy pizza. Realizing that he is better off as “El Solo Lobo”, the Lone Wolf, Reggie begins to settle into his new life as a pampered pardoned pet.
That is until Jake shows up and turkey-naps him. Jake has been given a mission by “the Great Turkey” to find Reggie and take him back in time to the first Thanksgiving, and to get turkeys off the menu. Jake is a rather muscular turkey bent on completing his mission at all costs. The story continues from there into an action packed fight for survival, including a stolen time machine named S.T.E.V.E (George Takei), a sacred time knob, and love in the year 1621.
The movie is mostly family friendly. The worst word in the movie is “dumb” and blood/gore is non-existent. There is slight turkey innuendo and violence in the film includes guns, traps and explosions as well as a few slaps to the beak. There are two deaths in the film, one turkey and one human.
So why isn’t it “completely family friendly” in my book? Simply because of the underlying religious assumptions found throughout the movie. Reggie’s flock at the beginning of the movie is made up of mentally deficient turkeys. You see the religious parallels when the farmer comes and grabs one of the turkeys by the neck and takes him in for slaughter. He goes with a smile on his face and leaving the other turkeys jealous that he gets to go on to “Turkey Paradise”.
The turkeys view the farmers as benevolent and all-powerful, and are seen as a bunch of moronic, un-reasoning followers going to their death because they refuse to listen to outside opinion. It is implied that this is representative of many Americans today. When the flock gives up Reggie as a sacrifice, or so they think, it suggests that this is what religious sycophants do to those who try to point out their faults and help them with reasoning.
Jake is seen as a stronger, slightly smarter version of these turkeys. He is still just a blind follower of “the Great Turkey”, who has seemingly given him a mission in a vision that is un-provable to Reggie or anyone else. This mission is what has driven Jake forward all throughout his life and is the reason for everything that he has done. Reggie spends a large part of the film telling Jake that the Great Turkey is not real and that Jake simply made it up to help himself feel better.
Closer to the end of the movie, Reggie realizes that he is “the Great Turkey” because he must go back in time to Jake's poult-hood and appear to him in the time machine to give him this mission. This scene reeks of Søren Kierkegaard’s existentialist views in that it upholds that it is the individual’s responsibility to give life meaning. Reggie gives the not-so-quick-witted Jake a reason to live by appearing as a “god-like” figure to him and bestowing upon him a “sacred knob”. The philosophical views of the film creators seep through at every turn.
The turkeys of 1621 are much smarter and far more productive that modern-day turkeys, and are viewed as the collective before modernization and religious “infiltration”. They are also reminiscent of the Native Americans of the time.They are “undomesticated” and as the title suggests, free. The message here is that the turkeys were happier, smarter, and just all-around better off before the addition of European religion into their way of life. Simply put: religion is bad.
Jenny, the turkey chiefs daughter (and Reggie’s crush), mentions that if the turkeys stopped doing stuff that then they would become dumb. The parallel is that the creators of the film view religion as something that “dumbs” people down because they stop being productive, seemingly because they have faith in a higher power (which is in this case the humans).
The film ends on a good note though, because the turkeys are saved and pizza becomes the new Thanksgiving centerpiece. Reggie decides to stay with Jenny in 1621 while the “enlightened” Jake sets out with S.T.E.V.E. to save or help whoever needs it.
It kind of reminds me of Doctor Who, except that Jake's time machine, S.T.E.V.E., is in the shape of a giant egg as opposed to the Doctor's police box T.A.R.D.I.S. The subliminal messages that the film sends are not hidden very well, but I suppose a child would have a hard time seeing the connections that are obvious to adults.
All in all I did enjoy the film, and even had a few laughs. The allusions to the deep-seeded philosophical and religious views of the film’s creators are pretty hard to miss though, and that did take away from the enjoyment of the film for me.