Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
Zack Snyder's Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based upon the books by Kathryn Lasky (which I have not read), is a gorgeous, action-packed computer-animated owl tale which unfortunately suffers from a bit of editing attention deficit disorder common to many action films these days, when cuts and chops come so fast that it's disorienting if not impossible to tell what's going on a lot of the time.
Despite that common and completely ridiculous flaw, it has an okay script and story and some really stunning moments. But seriously, action directors, can we talk? Many of your films would be about one hundred times better if you would let the audience see them. I know, with storyboards and/or computer animation work, and actually shooting, compositing and editing all this stuff, you get to stare at some of these truly astounding movie worlds until you're sick of them.
We in the audience get to see less of them, so please add some seconds to your crazy-cuts, or pull the angle of view out a bit so we can get a physical idea of what's happening, and we'll love you for it. This might have been a four-star movie if not for the bad action moments.
Seriously, is it the drugs, Hollywood? Too much caffeine? Bad conventional wisdom about attention spans in the Internet age? Whatever, it's not cute, it's stupid. Millions for eye-busting effects, action violence and lavishly painted worlds you are not going to actually show us? Knock it off, jerks. I'd rather see those worlds than your name in the credits, or your blinky idea of excitement.
All right, enough of that rant, though I think this is a good place for it. Aside from shooting itself in the foot on the action front, Owls has a pretty engaging story, as well as some good views of the world it creates. Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess), our hero, is a young fledgling Tito owl who lives in "The Hollow" with his parents, younger sister Eglantine (voiced by Adrienne DeFaria) and brother Cludd (voice of Ryan Kwanten). (Most of the owls seem to live in "The Hollow," but apparently not the self-same hollow.) Soren's still learning to fly, as is his brother, and Soren and Eglantine thrill to stories told by their father of "The Guardians," a mythical group of warrior owls who fight for truth and justice in dark times. Cludd thinks the stories are stupid.
On an unauthorized outing to test their wings, Soren and Cludd are whisked away to another corner of owldom where the work is compulsory and the tenor fascistic. Now the good owls need the Guardians, not just inspiring tales about them.
The film is clearly inspired by, and takes some tips from fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings series, the Narnia movies, The Wizard of Oz, and more, and it's ambitious to tell its own story and find a place among the greats, but it doesn't quite make it. It's just okay, with beautiful birds.
Visually, the owls are amazing, appealing, stunningly portrayed, really. We like them more than the story actually makes them likable, so some lacking elements can be forgiven, and the film still pulls you along, to a point. The emotional elements of the various fights, however, as mentioned above, are undercut by rapid, incoherent cuts. We feel like rooting for the good guys, then wonder if this or that slice of pixels might be them.
Despicable Me and Toy Story 3 are still playing in my town, and they should definitely make any movie priority list before Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. But if your kids have read the books or really want to see it, it's all right. Very young kids might not do well with all of the action violence or scary story elements, but I'd vote that eight years old and up is probably about right. It is gorgeous (at least the parts which can be clearly seen before being yanked away). Mr. Snyder: Relax, breathe. Give us a break.
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