a critiQal film review Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)

Plot: A young barn owl named Soren (Sturgess) is kidnapped by owls of St. Aggie’s, where owlets are brainwashed into becoming soldiers. He and his new friends escape to the island of Ga’Hoole, to assist its noble, wise owls fight the army being created by the wicked rulers of St. Aggie’s.

680 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 24s)

Last year, director Zack Snyder, known for his hard-hitting stylistic action flicks (300 (2006), Watchmen (2009)) brought viewers something different – an animated film based on a 14-book series for kids.

Would Zack’s foray into animation, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga-Hoole be marked with his signature style as much as 300 (2006) was? Or is this animated adventure for the birds?

The voices are strong, yet are masked enough that viewers won’t quickly recognize the actors behind them. While some films are able to make this work (Toy Story (1995), for example), an easily recognizable voice is usually a hindrance for animated films, as the film just has to work that much harder to overcome the viewers’ pre-conceived picture of the face behind the voice. That’s not to say there aren’t a few talented voices in Legend of the Guardians. There are, including Helen Mirren and Hugo Weaving. Thankfully though, the actors did a good enough job masking their voices so the film doesn’t have to struggle to overcome it’s actors.

It seems about the only truly original idea about The Legend of the Guardians is setting it among owls, rather than humans. Other than that, the legend that becomes reality idea is rather old. The young boy who becomes a part of that legend has also grown rather tired. Kung Fu Panda (2008) used this same idea as it’s start, but that turned out a whole lot better. Unfortunately, it seems that after the idea of setting the story among owls was arrived at, the rest of the storyline was simply pieced together from previous films. Sadly, this results in a film that, even while being seen for the first time, feels a bit too familiar to viewers.

The animation, however, is top-notch, bringing the world of these owls to vivid life. There are a few moments of slow motion that seem to be a slight homage. Not to The Matrix (1999) that caused everyone to start including slo-mo in their films, but rather to Snyder’s previous efforts, most noticeably 300 (2006). It’s a nice touch in a film that seems to otherwise be lacking in his stylized directing, and viewers will long for more.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few plot holes, and any surprises are quickly explained to death by the characters. This leaves the film to limp along, relying on it’s banal dialogue and impressive special effects to get it through.

As with most animated quest films like this one, most of the film hinges on the viewer’s willingness to care about the characters. Wide-eyed and innocent Soren does his best to get the viewer involved. But, when the supposedly epic trek he’s undertaking is over within the span of a few minutes, it’s hard for the viewer to really feel for him. Even presented with betrayal, he never loses that innocence, making the viewer wonder at his near-stupidity, rather than marvel at his naivety.

For a kids’ film, then, this seems to be the perfect answer, with an optimist that saves the day through courage and heart, rather than with dastardly intents, or a past that comes back to haunt him. Unfortunately, the action sequences seem a bit on the brutal side for kids, and death lurks among the shadows to claim an owl life or two. Still, with even Disney presenting death to the youngsters, that may not be as much of turn-away as it used to be. This is especially true when the kids will delight in flying with the ragtag bunch of friends on their journey.

For the adults out there, however, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole may seem a bit too lighthearted in intent, if not in actions. The action sequences are decent but the characters largely forgettable. This ends up creating a film that is a lot better to watch with the sound off than with the sound on.

Too bad, as the previews had gotten us excited for this one – even if it took us nearly a year to finally sit down and watch it.

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