Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

21 Oct

Title: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Year: 2010
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: John Orloff and Emil Stern, based on the novels by Kathryn Lasky
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Barclay, Anthony LaPaglia, David Wenham, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Abbie Cornish
MPAA Rating: PG, some sequences of scary action
Runtime: 90 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%

I went into Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole not really knowing how to adjust my expectations. This was an animated PG-rated film from a guy who so far had only made R-rated spectacles, two being adaptations of very adult-oriented and cult-favorite graphic novels, and the other being a terrific zombie flick. And now here he was, switching the graphic novels for a series of kid-oriented books, and trading in the flesh-eating undead for owls. Yes, I was baffled by this, but nevertheless, this is Zack Snyder we’re talking about, and his Dawn of the Dead remake was outstanding, 300 was deliciously relentless, and Watchmen was, whether you loved it or hated it, a really faithful adaptation of its source material and one that was treated with a helluva lot of passion, something which made me love the film, moreso on the director’s cut than on the theatrical, which is saying something considering the expectations I had for it were as big as they’ve been for any film.

So yes, here I was, throwing myself at this animated owl film directed by the guy who directed 300 with my eyes closed, because I’ve learned to trust this guy, I’ve learned to really respect his work, which is why I’m quite okay about him being the chosen director to reboot the Superman franchise. But, back to the film, it ended up actually being quite okay, really. It’s nowhere close to being as good as any of the other films the guy has made previous to this one, but it was a good experience. Visually, at the very least, it was positively stunning, and even though the story wasn’t amazing, I did like the fact that this was a kid-oriented film with a decidedly darker tone.

But that was also the problem, you see, not because it was too dark, because it really wasn’t, but because it seemed as though Mr. Snyder and his crew had to restrain themselves quite a bit not to go too overboard on the darkness of the film and lose their PG-rating, not surprising considering the guy’s track record. But yes, that was, to me, what did them in and prevented them from churning out a spectacular film, the fact that they tried to make it too much for kids. I mean, yes, the movie is ideally targeted at kids, but the result we got was one that will still, I imagine, alienate some of the younger audience as it is, and if they were willing to take that risk, they might as well should have gone all out and go for it, though I guess they would have needed a PG-13 rating for that, and I’m guessing the studio wouldn’t allow that.

But nevertheless, I thought this was a good animated flick. As I said, the animation itself is pretty darn awesome, and the 3-D is actually cool in it and goes to aid the story-telling and isn’t just a cheap gimmick, which is something that, in today’s all-about-the-money industry, is easier said than done. But yeah, this one’s been referred to in articles I’ve read as a kind of Lord of the Rings with owls, and I guess there’s some accuracy in that statement, sure, there’s less blood and more feathers, but the tale isn’t a light one, and the battles are pretty damn exciting to watch, something you can always expect from Mr. Snyder.

My main problem with the film, as I said above, is the fact that it seemingly could never find the right balance between the dark tones of its story and the lightness it seemingly was required to fulfill. That struggle between the somber and dense stuff and the light and fun stuff ended up preventing the film from reaching deep into the emotional sockets of the story, and unfortunately for them, in today’s world of animation we expect to have quite a lot of emotional connection to the characters and the story, you can blame the masters at Pixar for that.

As for the story, we have Kludd and Soren, a pair of owl brothers who are kidnapped as kids when their parents were off getting some food for them. You see, the Pure Ones, the group of the most powerful owls there are, want to make an army of the more common barn owls so that they can dominate the world. Our journey is with Soren, as he tries to find the mythical and legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole he presumes will bring salvation to his kind, as he grows up in the process, and as he sees his brother being lured into the dark side.

This is a pretty epic story in scale, and the voice talent recruited to give life to the owls is spot-on for the most part, and Mr. Snyder, who we all know can craft some of the niftiest action sequences on a green-screen now has an entire animation landscape to fill with whatever he desires, and so it stands to reason the action sequences in this one are also quite cool to watch, and they are, with Mr. Snyder’s now trademark slow-motion sequences included.

In the end I will always point out the same problem I have pointed out a couple of times here when people ask me what I thought about Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. I’ll say that this would have been, ideally, a rather dark-ish PG-13 film, that would have benefitted tremendously from displaying the moral issues at hand and emotional darkness in such a canvas, but that was, so as to satisfy it’s intended audience, dialed down to a PG rating, and dialed down to become a really fun and visually stunning film, but not much more than that, even though it easily could have been.

Grade: B

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