AKA: Free Birds
While there’s not a whole lot about this English language dub of the Argentinean original animated 3D endeavor that’s worth recommending, the work (which was co-produced by the Oscar winning Best Foreign Filmmaker Juan Jose Campanella of The Secret in Their Eyes) does have one great twist that sets its premise apart.
A gender-flipped version of the ugly duckling storyline that typically follows a plain female who longs to be more beautiful in order to get attention from the opposite sex, this anthropomorphic reimagining of the idea centers around an average male sparrow named Jack (voiced by Drake Bell).
Tired of being snubbed by the lady-birds he covets, Jack wishes he had the type of exotic, aesthetically pleasing feathered appearance that the more superficial of his female acquaintances flock after on a regular basis.
After he flies down a chimney and lands smack dab into a pile of paint cans that shower the bird in vibrant topical hues, Jack emerges looking like he’s set to star in a Rainforest feathered production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Thrilled by his colorful looks, Jack eagerly takes advantage of his second opportunity to make a new and improved romantic first impression on the fairer sexed flockers.Willing to risk the damage that paint inhalation could have on his lung power and ability to sustain flight, Jack takes part in a great race in an effort to not only impress but get a taste of what life is like from the faux point-of-view of the beautiful, privileged and exotic fliers he envies.
Yet while he would give anything to be exotic, one of the world’s most authentically exotic and expensive birds would give anything to live the normal, free-flying life he’s been taking for granted as one of the flock.
A seven hundred thousand dollar beautiful canary that’s been sold to a selfish and cruel owner, Aurora (Ashley Tisdale) has been trapped in a cage for most of her life.
While inevitably the two opposite birds that both have a yearning for a new type of life eventually cross paths and learn some hard character lessons along the way (from themselves, each other as well as their colorful collection of sidekicks), it’s a flimsy story all around.
And despite some terrific comic relief by Ken Jeong, Jane Lynch and Jon Lovitz, Bell’s shallow, social-climbing character isn’t nearly as sympathetically likable enough as the traditional ugly duckling formulaic archetypes from which the screenplay was derived.
When you add this with a surprising abundance of gloomy overtones that add a grim timbre to the film’s second half (which unravels the tapestry they’d been attempting to weave together with the two contrasting plotlines in the beginning), it’s a safe bet that your children are going to grow restless pretty fast with this tonally uneven picture.
Bolstered by an energetic opening and vibrant animated visual style that can sadly only take it so far, this lackluster production that was timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Rio 2 as well as the home entertainment premiere of Free Birds is weaker than some of Lionsgate’s recent English language translations overseen by Mychal Simka.
While the voice work is at least much more consistent than what's on display in Simka’s latest offering Snowflake, the White Gorilla, all in all Birds of Paradise fails to live up to his surprisingly effective and vastly superior Planes tie-in Wings.
Nonetheless, you have to give Birds credit for its impressively modern revisionist take on ugly duckling tales where only female characters worry about their looks since questions and concerns about fitting in are universal in every culture, language and gender, whether human or feathered.
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