Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is the most bitchin’ piece of ’70s van art that you’ve never seen. As adapted by Zack Snyder from Kathryn Lasky’s children’s books, it’s very much Happy Feet crossed with 300, a continuation of his thematic fascination with mythmaking and fetishistic use of slow-motion. It looks positively gorgeous, and there’s a good chance that it’ll scare your kids just as much as hold them rapt.
Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) is our would-be hero, a fledgling flier with a fondness for the lore of the Guardians. His brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwantan), doesn’t hold out such hope when both are kidnapped by the Pure Ones, an army of evil owls led by Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton), and he is quick to turn into a soldier among their ranks. However, Soren escapes and seeks out his heroes for help.
Having your fluffy birds start off their epic adventure by fleeing from a prison camp where owlets are being brainwashed by a legion of villains who are building a secret weapon built out of magnetic flecks isn’t exactly conventional, but everything else about Guardians follows the Joseph Campbell/George Lucas formula to a T. (Soren’s relentlessly encouraged to “follow his gizzard” in lieu of using the Force.)
But fuck, is it gorgeous. Snyder is nothing if not technically proficient, and he makes striking use of both the animation capabilities at his disposal and the aerial allure of convincing 3D presentation. The slo-mo shots may be laughably overdone, but at least they allow for a fuller appreciation of the details assigned to every last feather and each clash of the talons.
Oh, that reminds me, the violence. Bird on bird, bird on bat, all armed with blades and helmets, Snyder is as eager to relish screen conflict as ever, and while I’m not saying that the film’s young audience are going to be traumatized (there’s not so much as a drop of blood in sight), its action beats are on the surprisingly intense end of the spectrum and the tone wavers between super-serious and storybook from scene to scene.
Did I mention that the melees and betrayals and moon-based brainwashing are all gorgeous, though? It’s a family film from the director of 300 and Watchmen, through and through, existing for little reason than to give all the little Snyders something they can actually watch and to provide a paycheck for every other Australian and British actor who hasn’t been in a Harry Potter picture. It pops out, it throws down, and it’ll stand as more of a curio than a classic when all is said and done.
William Goss lives in Orlando, Florida. But don’t hold that against him.
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