The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Directed by: Zack Snyder Cast: Jim Sturgess, Anthony LaPaglia, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Joel Edgerton Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: PG Release Date: September 24, 2010
PLOT: A young owl (Sturgess) must join the forces of the revered "Guardian" owls if he is to save his brother and sister from the evil Metalbeak (Edgerton).
WHO'S IT FOR? This bloodless owl epic (in IMAX 3D!) is for kids and their families, just like Puff the Magic Dragon was back in 1978.
EXPECTATIONS: The promise of watching animated owls in 3D was not what fueled the curiosity that drove me to my seat. Instead, it was the stupefied reaction I had when I heard that this movie with the word "Ga'Hoole" in the title was directed by Watchmen's Zack Snyder.
Jim Sturgess as Soren: As hero, this lead owl seems too much of a weakling. Sturgess voices this important character as if he constantly has wonder in his eyes - what, has he not seen owls wear metal helmets before? His heroic journey should be a crash course in becoming an adult, something that happens to all whippersnappers that have been in his place before, (Luke Skywalker, etc). Instead, he's consistently hesitant, not to mention mopey. If we're going to care about him and his assumed courage, this owl has to man-up. Score: 4
The rest of the cast as an assortment of Owls: A lot of voice talent is used in the film to voice a multitude of owls, who expand from different color owls to owls that wear helmets and owls that don't. On-screen they melt together, and are difficult to name. It doesn’t help that they have ridiculous, fantasy-junkie names like Ezylryb (who is voiced by Geoffrey Rush). The main group of owls are easy to mentally separate, as Digger, Twilight, Soren, and Eglantine are given enough personality to stand out from each other. But the rest of the squadron of owls will prove challenging to fully recall. So, Helen Mirren, if you’re reading this, (and if you are, please "Like" us on Facebook), I’m sorry. Score: 5
TALKING: Snyder is from Wisconsin, but all of his owls speak with English accents. Why? Is it because that type of accent has more of fantasy edge as opposed to other accents, even when we’re not involving humans, but owls? I suppose this does beat a movie full of squawking, an ear-shattering owl charm that the film only uses for a few battlecries. The biggest head-scratcher of Ga'Hoole comes from its usage of the word “gizzard.” It’s used multiple times in the movie, as if it were to mean a part of an owl’s soul, but I still had to look it up afterward. And even then it didn’t make sense. I might be going with my gizzard on this one, but I doubt kids will have any more of a clue. Instead, the story provides us with a full understanding of what owl pellets are. Thanks. Score: 5
SIGHTS: To put it simply, movie patrons who get off on remaking how great fur looks in animated movies will be very happy. Of course it's not just the fur that looks great here, it's also the settings. Grade-A animation is put into this movie, something that makes the 3D even better (though still not worth the extra money). As for Snyder’s near trademark usage of slow motion, it proves to be more useful as the story progresses. In a final battle of owls, it really soaks up the excitement of the action, as assisted by carefully used zooms. However, in some cases the amount of close-ups can be a bit jarring, especially considering the film’s very 3-D nature. Score: 9
SOUNDS: The musical director pranks his audience by using a song by tween pop performer Owl City in two occasions. The rest of the music goes for John Williams-like fantasy, but it lacks the effective motif that has assisted in making franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars so audibly memorable. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: The final battle sequence is reasonably thrilling, and has the film's best moments of owl battle. A few shots of combat have such an epic quality to them that they could become paintings. (Snyder knows this, as he puts these moments in slow motion.)
ENDING: A classic happily ever after conclusion that also leaves room for a sequel that feels unlikely.
QUESTIONS: Is this a land inherited by owls? Did human beings wipe each other out, and now owls are usually previously built structures to play "King of the Hill"? And of course, the mega question that will never be answered … “Owls? Seriously?”
REWATCHABILITY: The animation quality might make a second viewing a fun venture for the eyes, but your brain will be angry for having to sit through such a standard story for a second time.
Remember those wild stories that your burn-out failed author of an uncle used to tell you? The ones about brave commoners who live in evil kingdoms and fight in massive battle sequences? Just add owls. Ga’Hoole has got it all, when talking about the debt it owes to the fantasy playbook. It includes family betrayal, master worship, the importance of comraderie, and of course, metal helmets. Yes, your uncle may have seen classic fantasy stories like Star Wars a few too many times when he thought that he was being creative. But the same fault can be put on the writers of Ga’Hoole.
This owl movie exists much like that blue cat people movie did a year ago - Ga’Hoole has Avatar syndrome. It’s an expensive 3D IMAX visual feast that cripples itself because it hesitates to fly into new territory, and it uses “cute” physical elements like big, wide eyes in its characters to earn sympathy for its audience. How in the hell could audiences take a movie about birds fighting each other with metal claws seriously? It’s in the eyes, it’s in the heart shaped fur on their heads, and it’s in the overly sensitive nature of lead owl Soren. Exchange owls with rats, and you’ve got a doomed project that wouldn’t fly with audiences the least bit.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10