"Free Birds" is more proof, as if 2013 needed it, that Hollywood has almost killed the animated goose that laid the golden egg. "Epic," "Monsters University," "Planes," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" and "Turbo" -- all major pictures that hint at a talent pool spread absurdly thin and an industry with sneering contempt for its audience.
Joining that undistinguished list is "Free Birds." The opening credits tell us that this "is loosely based" on a true story -- "unless, of course" you take into account the talking turkeys who talk turkey.
Owen Wilson voices Reggie, a scrawny Jeremiah at his turkey farm, the one guy to figure out why he and his flock are being fattened up. Reggie is that lucky bird who wins a presidential pardon. The gag writers thought it would be cute to make this Southern president with the bratty daughter Clintonian. Hellooo, 1996.
Reggie has barely settled into a pampered life of pizza and TV at Camp David when the demented Jake (Woody Harrelson) enlists Reggie to steal the secret Camp David time machine, travel back to early America and change Thanksgiving history, "to get turkey off the menu."
The movie's few gags seem borrowed from better films -- short-attention-span turkeys inspired by Dory of "Finding Nemo," "Braveheart" battle scenes, etc. But the sight gags fall flat, and much of the screenplay seems like a rough draft that the filmmakers -- Jimmy Hayward directed the superior "Horton Hears a Who" -- expected the actors to fix. And they didn't.
Frozen, undercooked and sorely lacking much in the way of "all the trimmings," this turkey isn't ready to serve.
PLOT Birds of a feather flock together to the first Thanksgiving to get turkey off the menu.
RATING PG (some action, peril, rude humor)
CAST Voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei
BOTTOM LINE No one should be thankful for this turkey.