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Originally published Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:10 PM

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‘Free Birds’ leaves little to be thankful for

A turkey named Reggie travels back in time to thwart the first Thanksgiving in “Free Birds,” a kids’ movie with little story cohesion or purpose.

San Francisco Chronicle

Movie Review 1 stars

‘Free Birds,’ starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler and Woody Harrelson. Directed by Jimmy Hayward. 91 minutes. Rated PG. Several theaters.

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We’ve seen audacious product placement in movies before: Joe Pesci ordering a Subway sandwich in “Lethal Weapon 2”; Tom Hanks giving AOL stock a boost in “You’ve Got Mail”; a 119-minute Google advertisement disguised as a feature film called “The Internship.”

But movie audiences have never been sucker punched by the fist of embedded marketing with the force that we see at the end of “Free Birds.”

Warning: This review will include a spoiler of the final scene of the movie. And this spoiler (the contents, not the revealed plot points) may ruin your day.

“Free Birds” sounds fun and clever in theory, featuring a turkey named Reggie who is pardoned by the president, then travels back in time to thwart the first Thanksgiving meal, presumably saving his species from centuries of slaughter.

In execution, the film is all sidekicks and sight gags, with little story cohesion or purpose.

Spoiler: The first Thanksgiving meal is saved, the pilgrims are spared from starvation, and peace is achieved between Native Americans and settlers. All because a delivery boy from the future arrives bearing boxes of Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza.

That is what we’re supposed to accept as a happy ending in “Free Birds”: Chuck E. Cheese saves America. And following the movie’s logic, every Thanksgiving dinner in the nearly 400 years since has been a turkey-free atrocity consisting of a feast of cardboard-tasting pizza. One of the more pivotal meals in human history, rewritten to include one of the worst foods.

The writers do contribute some clever moments in the beginning, and director Jimmy Hayward rewards short attention spans with a brisk pace. While this film may be spoiled from serious cultural consideration by the unfortunate product placement, it’s definitely not the Chuck E. Cheese of animated family films.

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