The Legend of the Guardians is a strange tale- and I’m not even talking about the actual film. Hyped during its theatrical run (which began on September 24th of 2010), Warner Brother announced that it was scheduled for a mid-February DVD/ Blu-ray release. Then suddenly (presumably in effort to capitalize on the spend-happy Holiday shopper scene), the DVD & Blu-ray were released and with virtually no hoopla on December 17th. I nearly completely overlooked it as a result except for the fact that when preordering Despicable Me, I was recommended Guardians with the sub text “available now”.
Going into the film, I was aware of the fact that the material would be joining an ever-growing list (a list that includes Shrek, Meet the Robinsons, How to Train your Dragon, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to mention a few) of animated features based on popular children’s book series. This one was done up by the studio responsible for Happy Feet (Village Roadshow), distributed by powerhouse Warner Brothers and represents Zack Snyder's (the man responsible for such works as Watchmen and 300) directorial debut in animated feature film.
On the whole Warner Brothers has been lagging behind in the highly lucrative animated feature market; a place dominated by Disney/ Pixar and DreamWorks. Other studios in similar positions have begun to realize the potential in this segment and are putting in serious work to catch up (Sony with ImageWorks, 20th Century Fox with Blue Sky and so on). WB hasn’t proven quite as eager as the competition so converting Kathryn Lasky’s series of young reader fantasy books into CG is about as good a place to start making up for lost time.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole’ uses personified owls to weave its tale in a completely fantastical world (seemingly devoid of humans). The plot works on the fantasy template on nearly a point-by-point basis: A young, inexperienced (eventual) hero is introduced from the safety of his picturesque home. Innocence and security are whisked away by invasion of a powerful enemy army, complete with a weapon of incalculable advantage. The only force in the world capable of keeping the rising threat at bay have long since retired to the recesses of memory and myth.
The quest begins to not only prove the legend true, but to convince the Guardians to come out of their self-imposed retirement to once again rise up against this evil empire (The Pure Ones) to restore peace and harmony to the whole land. Along the way there will be requisite betrayals, family division, advice from goodhearted heroes, training from hardened warriors, a better understanding of the horrors of war and why freedom is worth fighting to preserve.
If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a story archetype that’s been told countless times throughout the ages. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Eragon; you can find this precise tale in various forms of entertainment spanning literature, film, poetry, folklore and so on. However, don’t be mistaken into believing that because its formulaic, Legend of the Guardians comes up short. But we’ll get to that.
Notice the apparent lack of names included in my above story summary? That was a deliberate homage to the actual experience in that upon the film’s conclusion, I was confident only in the names of two of the fifteen main characters.
Names like Otulissa, Strix Struma, Ezylryb, Eglantine and Allomere were made clear to me only in post-viewing research and even then I was quite unsure which were which. Australian accents and little scripting effort to embed faces with the names results is a definite “so that’s the main guy’s brother there?” experience. Fortunately, somehow, the film suffers none as a result of this little snafu. A marketing disaster, sure, but the entertainment value endures.
And speaking of entertainment value, Legend of the Guardians is a visual feast! It can truly be said that Pixar and DreamWorks have absolutely nothing on Village Roadshow. Lighting is spectacular, settings are rich with background detail and the character models are so well textured/ animated that they often border on photorealism. The flight sequences, particularly when viewed in high-definition, are breathtaking. I can only imagine what the experience must have been like in a 3D theater.
There are a few complaints to be voiced however. The weapon of the enemy (an energy field that somehow captures owls and renders them helpless) is kept a complete mystery to the viewer for the duration of the film. Whether or not it is better explained in the source material books, I cannot say, but aside from requiring tiny little pieces of metal to function, it is nothing more than a one-dimensional plot device here.
Also the PG rating should be taken quite seriously as, though animated, this film contains some pretty intense sequences that will surely unsettle the youngsters. Additionally, even if the kid in question is desensitized to such things, the plot and themes would likely be a bit heavy/ hard to follow for younger tykes.
In all though, despite what surely sounds like multiple complaints, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole’ is a surprisingly solid piece of computer generated film. The story is a bit cliché yet it still manages to engross, the character and location names are a venerable mystery, yet the story manages to shine through, the 3D revolution may be a fad but the visuals here simply refuse to stop dazzling. At the end of the day, the movie is 97 minutes of sheer enjoyable adventure: a classic tale of good versus evil, told with animation of absolutely epic proportions. The fantasy element is quite strong throughout and offers fans of films like the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars a fully CG feature to relish.
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