Free Birds

Free Birds contains several incidental depictions of disabilities, including an elderly turkey with cataracts and trouble walking, a possibly narcoleptic presidential daughter, and a young turkey who goes around saying “meow”, who is described as the product of a union between a turkey and a chicken and is seemingly the butt of many jokes. And all the modern turkeys are described as just plain dumb, evincing short term memory problems. But it’s Jenny, who has an eye that goes wonky whenever she’s stressed or nervous, who gets the most screen time.

Initially main turkey Reggie thinks Jenny must be weird or stupid because of her appearance, and clumsily asks what’s wrong with her. Jenny explains that she fell out of the nest and hit her head when she was a poult. She soon demonstrates that she’s Reggie’s intellectual equal and becomes his love interest. Hopefully the two enjoy many Thanksgiving pizza meals together.

Letters to Father Jacob (Postia Pappi Jaakobille)

Short but intense, Letters to Father Jacob explores two souls in transformation; one a murderer who has just received an unexpected pardon, the other an elderly blind priest fearing the end of his usefulness. With nowhere to go after a 12 year stint in prison without any family visits or support, Leila accepts the written job offer from one Father Jacob, an elderly blind priest who lives in a ramshackle house in the countryside.

Their first meeting is fraught with tension; Leila doesn’t know what her duties are, how to deal with a blind man, or even how to hold a cursory conversation. Childishly wondering if he’s really blind, she waves a kitchen knife in front of his eyes to see if he’ll react.

Leila wonders if Father Jacob is really blind

Is that a dagger I see before me?

Blind priests are nothing new; there are blind priests currently practicing in various parts of the world today. The Catholic Church has an official accommodation for the disability of a blind or partially sighted priest which allows him to say slightly modified Masses, exempts him from saying certain Holy Week masses, (perhaps because of the extra rituals and deviation from the standard form they involve?) and requires that he have an assistant if his blindness is far advanced.

Father Jacob has apparently been blind for a while now, as he speaks of having people read verses from the Bible for him to memorize as a young priest. Having gained a reputation as something of a mystic, Father Jacob has been receiving requests for prayers and intercession through the mail from all over Finland. His blindness prevents him from reading them independently, though he manages most tasks around the house fairly well. Leila’s duties entail little more than taking care of his dwindling correspondence, but she does not want to be bothered; she tosses most of his letters into the well and lies about them having no return address. Father Jacob can see right through the lies, though, and gently informs her of this.

At times Leila seems on the verge of stealing Father Jacob’s money and bolting, but wavers whenever she realizes she has nowhere to go. She starts to believe in Father Jacob’s heartfelt devotion to his epistolary flock, until the flow of letters suddenly dries up, triggering a crisis of the faith for Father Jacob. He insists on visiting a nearby church for some imaginary service in his pajamas, with Leila trailing behind.

Leila realizes that Father Jacob arranged for her pardon simply because he wanted a soul to save, and defiantly strands him in the church. Returning to his home, she takes some of his money and calls for a cab, but freezes when the cabdriver asks her what address to go to.

Leila considers–and almost carries out–suicide when Father Jacob returns home on his own.

On the postman’s next visit, Leila decides to make a change in her life, and compassionately begins to invent letters for the old priest to pray over. When he isn’t fooled, she breaks down and asks forgiveness for the murder she committed. (Which, of course, turns out to be justifiable homicide… God may forgive all sins, but movie audiences do not.) Father Jacob produces a letter from one of his frequent correspondents that offers her redemption and a path to a new life. And then, like all good disabled characters who have inspired the able-bodied to lead good lives, he immediately dies in his long johns.

Legend of the Guardians


Based on the popular children’s book series Guardians of Ga’hoole, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole primarily revolves around fledgeling owl Soren, who is carried off by bigger, stronger owls when he falls to the forest floor one day. The owls call themselves the Pure Ones and are ruled by an owl with a facial disfigurement, Metal Beak, who wears an ornate metal helmet and mask to hide his missing beak. (It seems even the owl kingdom can’t escape the Disability Movie Cliche of the villain being hideously deformed to match the ugliness of his soul.)

The Pure Ones have an unusual tactic at their disposal; they mystically reduce their new young captives to a zombielike state using the power of the moon. “Moon blinked” owls appear as if blind from cataracts, and in a catatonic state until their masters order them to work in a mine of sorts; the moon blinked owls peck through regurgitated owl pellets to find flecks of magnetic material that the mice have eaten.

Soren and Eg

Soren, and his moon blinked little sister, Eg.

Soren escapes with the help of an older, disgruntled soldier, and finds his way to a giant hollow tree with new companions. The tree serves as base for the legendary Guardians that Soren’s parents have told stories about, and Soren is questioned by their leaders. One grizzled veteran owl speaks up for Soren, though later his new young friends joke that Ezylryb is “missing a few talons”, as code for not being “all there”.

Soren begins training to become a Guardian himself, and Ezylryb takes him under his wing. The eager young Soren is ready to charge off to battle to rescue his sister, but the wise Ezylryb dissuades him from entering the fray without proper training. “Well, this is what it looks like when you’ve actually fought in battle. Its not glorious, it’s not beautiful. And it’s not even heroic. It’s merely doing what’s right. And doing it again and again, even if someday you look like this.” he says, referring to his missing talons and blind eye.

Ezylryb

Wise old owl Ezylryb tells Soren of the folly of rushing off to war.

Soren is dragged into battle anyway, and acquits himself nobly. Metal Beak is defeated, as symbolized by his empty mask. (The audience never actually sees his deformity, and how he’s able to speak intelligibly without a beak is never explained.)