Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history — and get turkey off the holiday menu for good.
The making of Free Birds (rated PG for mild action and humor; and with a running time of 91 min.) all began with an original idea from screenwriters David I. Stern and John J. Strauss. "The initial premise for the film at that time was, ‘Two turkeys go back in time to the first Thanksgiving and try to take themselves off the menu,’" says Stern. Stern and Strauss felt they had something unique and exciting on their hands, and after spending six months developing the idea, they flew to Dallas in the fall of 2008 to pitch the concept to executives at Reel FX. A long-time digital effects/animation service company for commercial and entertainment clients, Reel FX had been wanting, according to president David Ross, "to branch out from being just a service company into being a creation company." When executives heard Stern and Strauss’ idea, they all erupted in laughter. Free Birds felt like the ideal first project for the company, and the two writers got to work fleshing out the story. "It makes me incredibly proud that Free Birds is Reel FX’s first feature," says Aron Warner, executive producer of Free Birds and President of Animation for Reel FX. "First of all, technically, the film is beautiful. And story-wise, its tone is completely unique."
Free Birds (held over this Thursday for Thanksgiving night, plus Friday and Saturday at the Story Theater - no show Sunday) continues the comic tradition of the buddy comedy, featuring two incompatible heroes — in this case two turkeys: brainy, self-serving Reggie and dim-witted, heroic Jake — thrown into a rollicking, and ultimately life-changing, adventure. "We wanted Free Birds, at its heart, to convey the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and ultimately what it means to ‘do the right thing,’" says Strauss. Adds Stern, "We played with various pairings of personalities to create plenty of comic friction. And once we began researching turkeys, we used actual 5 differences — free-range versus factory-farmed; genetically modified versus natural — to help create a truly mismatched duo."
Pre-production work at Reel FX began in 2009, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2011 that writer/director Jimmy Hayward, who previously directed Horton Hears a Who!, came aboard to push the project into production. Hayward was joined by writer/producer Scott Mosier and Academy Award-winning executive producer Aron Warner (the Shrek franchise). "As soon as Jimmy, Scott and Aron came aboard, the movie just shot off like a cannon," says David Ross, President of Reel FX. "They all have a really smart yet oddball sense of humor, which is what this movie’s all about."
Hayward’s extensive background in animation at Pixar and Blue Sky helped him immeasurably in creating a high-quality product made entirely outside of the studio system. "Jimmy is an animator’s director," says executive producer Aron Warner. "He brings such passion to every session we have in editorial and in animation. He acts out the parts in great detail for the animators. He’s incredibly good at communicating what he wants to feel in a scene and what he wants to see on the screen."
—taken from the production notes of Free Birds, courtesy of Relativity Media