Landing right between the American and Canadian iterations of Thanksgiving is Free Birds, a 3D animated film about a few turkeys who are determined to change the holiday by getting turkey off the menu for good. The film, which hits theaters on November 1, touts a hilarious cast featuring the likes of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, and Amy Poehler.
Owen Wilson voices Reggie, a turkey who is the outcast of his flock for seeing what the rest don’t: that Thanksgiving is bad news for their kind. After being chosen as the ‘pardoned turkey’ by the President, Reggie is whisked away from the farm to live the high life of lounging around and eating pizza all day. One night, Reggie is taken by Jake, a buff and militant turkey voiced by Woody Harrelson. Their mission is to steal a time machine, go back to the first Thanksgiving, and save their species from the ever making it to the table.
According to the film’s director Jimmy Hayward, the idea for Free Birds came from two of the executive producers. From there, Hayward and writing partner Scott Mosier, then wrote the screenplay.
“I loved the premise of it; two talking turkeys getting their hands on a time machine is pretty awesome. It had a ton of promise, the trick was for Scott [Mosier] and I to tell a story with heart rather than something more sci-fi,” he explains. Hayward’s approach to telling this story as an endearing tale rather than a science fiction odyssey seems to have been two-fold: creating likeable characters and restricting use of the time machine.
While Hayward and Mosier wrote a cast of interesting and diverse characters, the voices behind those characters really draw the audience in. Wilson’s voice is perfectly suited for the off-beat and witty Reggie. And Harrelson is great as the military-minded but somewhat dense, Jake. Rounding out the cast with Wilson and Harrleson is Amy Poehler as Jenny, Reggie’s love interest and one of the pilgrim-era turkeys.
Hayward says each of the leads have great comedic sensibilities and that was something all three roles required. He explains, “Owen [Wilson] and Amy [Poehler] are great improvisers and writers.” Talents that Hayward let the actors explore while recording. He stated that he doesn’t demand exact words from actors, so he gave Wilson room to put his own spin on a number of lines.
Harrelson’s character Jake is one of the more understatedly funny characters in the film. He’s strong-willed and military-minded, but not the brightest turkey around. According to Hayward, Harrelson is very naturally funny and this had an impact on his character. So much so that, he wrote one of Harrelson’s jokes into the film. “I was working on a film with Woody [Harrelson] and he did this ‘Pecs, glutes, pecs, glutes’ thing, I thought it was hilarious so I made it a running joke in the movie,” he explains.
Not only did Hayward direct and write Free Birds but he also voiced a number of characters like the President, a bunch of turkeys, and the most notable being Ranger, Jenny’s brother and Jake’s rival. He says, “I did some of the voices in the film, so we really had fun working and doing scenes together.”
This light-hearted and fun approach definitely comes across when you watch Free Birds. The dialogue flows well and sounds like the characters are playing off one another, and not just reciting lines at each other. The funny and heart-warming cast, combined with adorable characters, interesting animation, and a ridiculous yet grounded plot make a film that children will love and their parents can enjoy. Free Birds lands in theaters on November 1, 2013.
MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE