138340530293980

Although there isn’t anything bad about a benign children’s adventure that can kill an hour and a half, it’s delightful to come across a film can captivate audiences the way Free Birds does. Admittedly, it doesn’t demand much effort to captivate audiences that consume Justin Bieber’s music just as eagerly, but at least the cast and computer animators assembled a film that can’t evaporate from their heads as easily as Saturday-morning cartoons.

Even if the film ends up inspiring a cartoon of its own, it has enough character to hold down a spinoff – or at least bolster it with credibility in case a future franchise goes bankrupt in the creativity department. After all, even a Jedi can’t get through the Star Wars Holiday Special.

It isn’t necessary to jump the gun, however. Just know that the film features Reggie (Owen Wilson), a turkey who attempts to convince his friends about the holiday that finds a place at the table for his kind. This time, Thanksgiving becomes a cause celebre after the president chooses him for his pardoning of the turkey and his daughter acquires him as her pet.

For as excellent as life gets with all the pizza he can eat and an array of channels on TV, his destiny changes once a turkey by the name of Jake (Woody Harrelson) forces him into his mission to find a time machine, then head to the first Thanksgiving, hoping he can keep the country’s ancestors from developing a taste for birds. For an avian hero, Reggie comes across as a bit of a chicken.

After arriving in 1621 in the machine (voiced by George Takei), Reggie and Jake chance upon turkeys in a tree trunk, including Jenny (Amy Poehler), Leatherbeak (co-writer and director Jimmy Hayward) and Chief Broadbeak (Keith David), who aims to keep the colony from becoming dinner. The biggest bane to their existence is Myles Standish (Colm Meaney), who’s fed up with hungry Americans criticizing him for coming up short during his hunts for dinner, but as adept as the birds are at avoiding his rifle, he’s confident in his ability to ensure their goose is cooked. (How many bird idioms are there, anyway?)

Because of the breadth of Pixar adventures like WALL·E, Toy Story 3 and Up, audiences could feel competitors are cheating them by animating less ambitious films. All the same, it’s amazing to discover the debut from Reel FX can bring designs as engaging as the ones here. As for the acting, Hayward gets performances from the vocal talents that hide them in their characters, as he did with Horton Hears a Who! several years ago.

There’s even an epilogue, although grownups may choose to escort their children from the theater before the appearance of a “turducken,” and dodge inquiries as to how such an animal came into existence.