This week I saw the trailer for the movie “Free Birds.” At first it seemed fairly harmless, just a buddy film featuring Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson as animated turkeys trying to rescue fellow turkeys from Thanksgiving dinner. The clips showed plenty of great slap stick humor. I am sure the right amount of crude body function kid pleasing humor mixed in with just enough adult innuendo for the older crowd. It is billed as a great family film, so why does it have me concerned?
In the trailer you have very smart, humanized, time traveling, talking turkeys plotting against very evil/dumb pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. Their goal is not just to save a few turkeys but to save all turkeys from the horror of Thanksgiving. There are also segments of the trailer where the turkeys are fighting humans in some sort of space suit in a giant factory.
Normally I am not the conspiracy theory type, but something about this trailer tripped my alarms. There were many stories about the movie’s upcoming release. A couple of the actors in the movie said it would be hard to eat turkey this Thanksgiving. Amy Poehler, the actress who voices the female lead, said that she learned a lot more about turkeys because of this film (let’s be clear, this is an animated film about time traveling, talking turkeys). Two of the lead actors are avowed vegetarians. The film’s director said it was not about vegetarianism but simply wanted us to re-think holidays.
I am not some sort of stick in the mud, kill joy but films like this one more and more blur the lines between animals and humans. Films like this portray farm animals as human-like heroes who fight the evil, backwards, dirty, dumb and/or greedy farmer. I know it is just a kid’s movie, and I shouldn’t over react.
Just a generation or two ago I would have been overreacting. Most of the population would have had immediate family who made a living farming or ranching, and they would have had contact with farm animals. However, that has changed and the only contact with animals that many people have are with their pets and that line is already very blurry. It is easy for them to transfer their human emotions and thinking to their pets and watching a movie like this is just the next step down the road to making animals equal to humans.
Those of us who have been around turkeys know that they are very different from the humanized cartoon creatures featured in this movie. They are simply prey animals at the bottom of the food chain. Modern turkey farms provide their birds with comfortable climate controlled barns, with a balanced nutritional diet, free from disease and predators. They do not sit around and discuss how they might travel back in time to escape the horrors of being the main course at our Thanksgiving meal.
One blogger I read hoped that this movie would cause children to break down in tears at the sight of their family’s Thanksgiving turkey. One movie reviewer speculated that tofu would replace turkey in many homes. I fear that there might be many adults also influenced by this movie because they have no real concept about turkeys or livestock. The idea that animals and humans are on the same level is slowly permeating all levels of our society.
I know at times I sound like a broken record but I will say it again. This is why we, farmers and ranchers, need to make our farms and ranches open. We need to invite the public out or at the very least tell them about how we care for our animals. We need to show the public what real farm animals are like. Animals are not smarter than human characters they have seen in movies. You scoff at the idea, but yesterday I listened to two adults have a conversation about their “kids” and it was not until one lady mentioned one of her “kids” was a terrier that I realized they were talking about dogs.
Farmers and ranchers, who make our living raising animals for meat, need to do a better job of educating the public about animals and their behaviors. I believe that animals were put on this earth for our use, but I also believe that they should be cared for, treated well and protected until they are ready for us to use. I would encourage you to watch the trailer, then have a conversation with the people around you about animal agriculture and encourage them to pass the word about how real farmers and ranchers treat their animals.