Friday, September 24th, 2010

The Owls have landed. And they pack a heck of a punch in the action fantasy romp Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Zack Snyder’s first foray into animation intended for children is achingly beautiful. I’m not a big fan of Snyder–liked his Dawn of the Dead remake, hated Watchmen, and felt an resounding “meh” after his Spartan spectacle, an adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. In those last three cases, I had been intimately acquainted with his source material. In this case, I have absolutely zero familiarity with the books on which Legend of Guardians is based. So I can absolutely not comment on how successful this film is as an adaptation, but I can say that as a film, it is a beautifully crafted adventure (with a few minor flaws) that should drop the jaws of kids and grown-ups alike.

Approach this film as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings but with owls. Sure it’s derivative, but it completely works. The owls are flawlessly animated, from their facial expressions and feathers to their individual shapes. When the owls fly, particularly en masse, the film is a sublime animation spectacle. I saw it in 3D, which created a rich environment without throwing a bunch of stuff in my face. That said, I can imagine that it’s probably pretty sweet looking in 2D as well.

The hero, a fledgling named Soren, is a dreamer who idolizes the legendary Guardians of Ga’hoole, mythic protectors no one is sure even exist. He’s a likeable Luke Skywalker type who is pulled into a conflict much larger than himself. The tale unfolds in broad mythic strokes, with villains you hate and sidekicks you love, all voiced with loving care by the likes of Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, and Geoffrey Rush.

The fight scenes are spectacular. Owls in battle could easily become a confusing mess, but Zack Snyder’s tendency to slow things down really works wonders and creates some, frankly, bad-ass fight scenes. No lie, I spent several hours after watching this film dreaming about being an owl in an owl army, wearing owl armor, and kicking evil owl butt.

The issues with the film are few, but worth mentioning. First, and probably most annoying, there is an abominable pop song inserted in the middle of the film, which has an otherwise fantastic score. Fortunately it only lasts a couple of minutes, but anyone over 10  will groan on the inside when the cloyingly earnest pop ballad starts rolling. The other flaw in my mind is that the script spends too much time setting up the sequel and not enough time bringing the characters and the audience down from the intense final battle. A lot happens that should emotionally impact the characters, and I felt like the implications of the finale were too easily brushed aside. Another criticism that I imagine will surface (although it is not one of mine) is that the film is too dark and too serious. It is dark. It is serious. But there’s no reason a young person can’t or shouldn’t think about the issues raised in the film. That said, this movie is not rated G, and is probably not ideal for the very young. I could easily imagine a 4 year old being scared during a few scenes.

Overall, Legend of the Guardians was an enjoyable 90 minutes, and I’ll probably check it out a second time before it leaves theaters.