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Movie Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a “hoot” of a grand title for a movie a little bit too grand for its own good.

It is about a family of owls with three young owls who have not yet mastered the art of flying. Venturing out of the tree when their parents are out looking for food, the two brothers “Soren” (Jim Sturgass) and “Kludd” (Ryan Kwanton) are abducted by a conquering clan of owls seeking domination of the entire owl kingdom.

At the home base of the enemies, the new captives discover scores of other young owls who are being enslaved to serve the dark order. This wicked clan that abducted them emphasizes the weakness of “lower” species and being “pure” and “strong.” So in other words, they seem to be the Ku Klux Klan of the owl world.

The Guardians are their antithesis, the good, noble, healing, nurturing, angel-like owls that fight to preserve goodness and justice, but they are believed to be legend by most owls. Soren, escaping captivity, comes to find that the Guardians are indeed real just as the old legends describe.

In the owl kingdom is war, with Soren and his family right in the middle of it. What we have in this movie is a quick, flighty, but well-constructed story that manages to fight against its own awkwardness with the razor sharp claws of a script that does (at last) draw you in—and then loses you again in an ending that puts too much stock in allegory and a sore thumb message about the value and pursuit of wisdom.

This tale of talons, screeches, wise warriors, and “moon-blinked” (brainwashed) baby owls that become drones to be taken advantage of puts in elements of the battle of good vs. evil, blends it with the age-old controversy of fact vs. myth, and cements it with the eternal optimism of dreamers producing heroes. Tis' a virtuous film with the best of intentions.

Faithful structure and wholesomely noble qualities in tact, Legend of the Guardians is like a spirited Australian neighbor who loves his drinks and talks the ears off of everyone around him, without the slightest clue that his carrying on is too much to handle.

So much intensity is put into picture-perfect animation quality – with slow motion fight sequences and swift journeys of flight – but with a story that never bothers to invite the viewer to be won over by the plain, unhurried appeal of its characters in situations not geared towards teaching moral lessons or trying to reflect philosophical wisdom with forced poetic prose.

No one is able to let their lights shine in this jam-packed mouthful, being so quickly paced that it is hard to get a fix on which owl is talking (or flying or fighting), though this is not at first noticeable. But sadly, what is noticeable is the lack of characters that beg to be adored.

Bringing in sufficiently dark magical elements when the writing calls for it, the film unfortunately succeeds in passing by its younger viewers with a message-driven, humorless plot that is mostly appreciable to a more mature audience. It is the “magic” the story lacks in that it was delivered to us in animation too life-like to allow for the making sense of blacksmithing, helmet-wearing owls. What we needed was a little more innocence and fewer attempts at pictorial grandeur.

But Zack “Watchmen” Snyder did not leave us with a complete flop. Strengths there are. Every speaking character is ripe with personality in bin-fulls, and the writing never sags. No “smart owl” or “college professor” childish notions are used, which in this case is a shame for the simple fact that a few tie-backs to the young audience for which a movie about animated owls was intended would only have been fair.

If your animated movie can’t teach with the lovable simplicity of Garfield, then it’s time to rethink some things.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG (for intense scenes of peril and violence)
Director: Zack Snyder
Summary: Soren, a young owl having escaped captivity, must find the Guardians of legend to stop the evil forces that tore apart his family. 
Starring: Emily Barclay "Gylfie" (voice), Abbie Cornish "Otulissa" (voice), Essie Davis "Marella" (voice), Adrienne DeFaria "Eglantine" (voice), Joel Edgerton "Metalbeak" (voice), Deborra-Lee Furness "Barran" (voice), Sacha Horler "Strix Struma" (voice), Bill Hunter "Bubo" (voice), Jim Sturgess "Soren" (voice)
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Fantasy
Trailer

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