"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" is an animated film with the enchanting lure of a fairy tale, the intrigue of a medieval political thriller, the excitement of an action spectacle, and the majesty of a special effects extravaganza. What it lacks is the time needed to fully develop the characters and the story; the film, an amazing technical achievement, not only moves too quickly but also feels incredibly condensed, as if not just one, but several of Kathryn Lasky's "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" books (unread by me) were combined into a single story. With so many plot points reduced to vague descriptions, with so many characters that each have engaging and discernable personalities, I didn't feel like I was seeing a great movie, but rather the beginnings of a great movie. And that's the thing - the beginnings are there. For a film just ninety minutes long, that's quite an achievement.
In what's essentially a redressing of a hero's journey, it tells the story of a barn owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), who's brave, idealistic, a dreamer, and devoted to stories about the Guardian owls, legendary for their heroic acts and their protection of the kingdom of Ga'Hoole. His brother, Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten), thinks the stories are merely that - stories - and is jealous of the attention Soren receives. One day, the brothers are abducted and taken to the lair of the evil Metalbeak (voiced by Joel Edgerton) and his wicked queen, Nyra (voiced by Helen Mirren). Once there, the weak owls are mentally incapacitated and forced to pick through owl pellets; the strong ones are brainwashed into joining Metalbeak's merciless army and take part in an insidious plot to take over the kingdom. The details of this takeover are left a little obscure, although it apparently involves a debilitating device that runs on scraps of metal.
Brother is turned against brother as Soren befriends Gylfie, a timid elf owl (voiced by Emily Barclay), while Kludd is primed by Nyra to be the greatest of Metalbeak's soldiers. With a little help, Soren and Gylfie escape, and they realize with great excitement that they have finally learned how to fly. They quickly team up with a kooky burrowing owl named Digger (voiced by David Wenham) and his lute-playing poet companion, a great gray owl named Twilight (voiced by Anthony LaPaglia). Only then does Soren learn that the Guardians are not only real, but also the only hope left for saving ... I guess you'd have to call it owlkind, since mankind apparently doesn't exist in this world. Thus the story progresses to a fierce and fiery battle in Metalbeak's lair, which, if the title is of any indication, will someday become legend.
This 3D animated fantasy, director Zack Snyder's first attempt at family entertainment, shows that considerable care went into creating its look. Production designer Simon Whiteley and art director Grant Freckelton have crafted a world of woodland charm and battle-scarred horror, with just a hint of Celtic thrown into the mix. The owls themselves are a triumph of animation, and I have no doubt that their feathers alone were a painstaking ordeal, what with the texture, color, movement, and transparency to take into consideration. There's a close-up shot late in the film, for example, of Soren as he flies through a violent rainstorm; coming towards the camera in slow motion, his feathers ruffle authentically in the howling winds, and rain droplets cling to his body while others splash into his eyes. It's a breathtaking moment, overflowing with power, grace, and style.
The problem is that it didn't go far enough with the story. Either that, or far too much of it was trimmed away in post production. Whatever the case, "Legend of the Guardians" is one of the few films that actually needs an extra thirty minutes just for the sake of pacing and clarification. We're so quick to complain about a film that moves too slowly, but we often forget that it can be just as damaging for a film to move too fast - we don't want to leave the theater feeling as if crucial details have been overlooked. As a full two-hour film, I suspect the film would do more than seem complete; it would also be one of the best modern-day examples of a conventional fairy tale retold.
Note: Despite the film's PG rating, "Legend of the Guardians" is considerably darker than most recent animated films - more so, I suspect, than the studios have been willing to reveal in the ads. There's no gratuitous violence, although there are a few decidedly violent moments of owls in battle. It's not excessively gloomy, although there is a consistent undercurrent of danger and despair. Take from this what you will. You obviously know your children a lot better than I do, but I've always been a firm believer that, in general, kids can tolerate a lot more unpleasantness than adults give them credit for. If this weren't the case, stories by J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, L. Frank Baum, The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, or Carlo Collodi would not have withstood the test of time.
Two of the things I like about Zack Snyder: His ability to try and give tribute to the source material he is adapting to the big screen and to ability to give it the respect it deserves (despite some flaws in execution). Zack Snyder has given us a remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, an excellent adaptation of Frank Miller’s “300” and “Watchmen” which had gotten mixed reviews. This time around, Snyder adapts the first three books in Kathryn Lansky’s extensive … more
*** out of **** There is such a thing as a talented director trying something new, without being pretentious. Some directors can do it; some can't. I think that Zack Snyder, director of modern epics such as "300" and "Watchmen", is one of those people who can. In fact, his latest film, "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hool" confirms this claim. "Legend of the Guardians" is a flat-out fascinating animated feature that stands out as one of the grittier animated films … more
Before I entered my theater to see Legend of the Guardians, my friend I was seeing it with asked me what I really wanted to see in the film. While he was really in it for story and characters (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I simply told him I was simply seeing the movie to watch a bunch of owls fight each other in the same glorious 3D I saw in the trailer. Thankfully, owls fighting in three dimensions was exactly what I got in one of the best-animated films of the … more
While it was the wolves that were dancing last night in my living room, it's the owls that are flying around this evening! These owls are so cute & so adorable that I won't mind sleeping next to them! Well, I thought the voices and the expressions are so well matched they are unbelievably real! Until they are "rescued" by the "Pure Ones" and made slaves in another kingdom where power is being tossed around as baits. … more
I really didn't have much in the way of expectations for a children's fantasy film directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen). Snyder is just about the last person I would think of when it comes to family friendly films, but to my surprise this movie actually entertains. Sure, the story is a bit cliche and it has all the typical fantasy formula moments you've seen dozens of times before, but the direction makes up for these flaws. The voice cast is quite good, though the … more
I found the film mostly a pretentious yawner, to be honest. Clearly, it didn't quite fit the bill of a kids' film -- I thought the world was way too complex for young'uns -- and it wasn't interesting or compelling enough to serve as an adults' film. Also, while I can appreciate the artistry of bringing CGI owls to life, I found there expressions incredibly limited, making it hard to cement any thematic tone to each of the fictional players. (Maybe this series works better as books than it does as … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a 2010 English-language computer-animated fantasy film loosely based on the first three books (The Capture, The Journey, and The Rescue) of the series Guardians of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky. Zack Snyder directed the film, with Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Kwanten, Emily Barclay, Anthony LaPaglia, and David Wenham voicing the characters.
Warner Bros. Pictures distributed the film with the Australian companies Village Roadshow Pictures and Animal Logic, the latter having produced visual effects for Happy Feet. Production took place in Australia, and the film was released in RealD 3D and IMAX 3D on September 24, 2010. Preceding the film is a new 3-D cartoon starring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner titled "Fur of Flying".