Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

What It Is

Each day, the young barn owl Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his little sister Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) act out the stories their dad (Hugo Weaving) tells them. These are stories of courageous and wondrous owls, the Guardians, who protect regular, less valiant owls from a group of bad owls. But even as the young siblings imagine themselves into the heroic tales, Soren’s older brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) ridicules him for believing them. Dad gives them a hint: “Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean that it isn’t real.”

It’s not long before the brothers discover the stories are true — most vividly, the part about the bad owls. Kidnapped by some of these bad owls, Soren and Kludd are lown off to a scary island where they see dozens of other young owls, living and working like slaves. Impressed by their spirit, the evil Nyra (Helen Mirren), who rules the island alongside her partner, Allomere (Sam Neill), gives the newcomers a choice: they can join with her, and be named Pure Ones like her devoted followers, or they can stay below and labor with the rabble. Kludd likes being called special, and so he joins up. Soren misses his sister and parents, and so decides he’ll escape, with another owl he meets, Gylfie (Emily Barclay), encouraged by an older owl who’s grown disillusioned with the increasingly fascist Pure Ones. He tells them they must find the guardians, who are, after all, real.

All of this plot is laid out in the first 20 minutes or so of the awkwardly titled Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Based on the first three of Kathryn Lasky’s 15-book children’s series, Zack Snyder’s movie then follows Soren and Gylfie’s journey, by way of lots of flying-over-landscapes shots and some battling of the elements, like thunderstorms and rough seas. The young owls are accompanied by the aging warrior-poet Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia) and the energetic Digger (David Wenham), as well as a snake named Mrs. Plithiver (Miriam Margolyes), who has served as nanny to Soren and his siblings. (It’s good to know that creatures born to be enemies can get along.) This trio provides comic relief, like the sidekicks in so many Disney films. Thus, the journey allows for the development of friendships as well as tests of courage and wisdom.

Why It’s Fun

Given the nature of its protagonists, much of the film’s action is airborne, and as such, it makes decent use of the 3D animation (courtesy of the same effects company who brought you Happy Feet, about surfing penguins). Here the flying images recall scenes from any of the Harry Potter movies, partly because the young owls are learning how to fly at first, partly because they so enjoy their skills once they achieve them, and partly because the point-of-view imagery is fast-paced and sometimes exhilarating.

When Soren and his friends locate the Guardians and lead them back to save the other owls from the Pure Ones, the climactic battle sequence works hard to be exciting, and to keep track of who’s who. Good owls wear gold armor, bad owls wear dark armor (one of most menacing is called Metal Beak [Joel Edgerton]), and everyone engages in rousing soars and swoops, mostly in slow motion.

Who’s Going To Love It

Fans of the source books will want to compare their visions of the owls to the film’s version (much as Soren himself compares his vision of the Guardians to the real thing).

The Owls of Ga’Hoole will also appeal to viewers who have seen the other movies it borrows from, including The Lion King, the Harry Potters, Avatar, and the Star Wars franchise (as Soren learns to fight, he is encouraged to “Listen to your gizzard,” much as Luke Skywalker was instructed to “Use the force.”)

Beyond such specific references, the film delivers repetitive action and occasional discussions of heroism, community, and bravery.

While Soren’s arguments with his brother Kludd are distressing, they might also be familiar to siblings who sometimes disagree. Alternately, Soren’s devotion to Eglantine, while too briefly glimpsed here, is heartening (and a likely starting point for a movie sequel).

What To Be Aware Of

Parents of younger viewers might be cautioned that a couple of owls get excited enough to use some minor language (like “hell”) and, more importantly, some plot turns are alarming.

First, the enslavement of the young owls is depicted as their hard labor, though most often revealed in long shots, from a distance. Second, the young owls are zapped into submission through a hypnosis process that’s not really explained, but is unnerving, especially when Soren sees his beloved sister’s eyes turn into spinning saucers; at this point he’s inspired to seek a personal sort of vengeance.

And third, the struggle between Soren and Kludd is not resolved peacefully, which leads to a jarring and briefly upsetting death scene at film’s end.

In fact, the lengthy last battle sequence is surprisingly violent for a PG movie, with fires blazing, trees exploding, owls slamming into each other, and owls falling from the sky. The violence is animated, but still, it might remind you that director Synder’s previous movies include a remake of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen, all very bloody affairs and keen on special effects, and none suitable for kids.

Unlike the action in those R-rated films, the fights in The Owls of Ga’Hoole are decidedly bloodless. And the owls — save for the stern Nyra and her conniving crew — are mostly cute, their faces expressive, and their loyalties intense. Their efforts to save each other are admirable.

See-It-Again Points

6 out of 10

Film Information

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Emily Barclay, Abbie Cornish, Ryan Kwanten, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Sam Neill
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Year: 2010
Rated: PG
US Premiere: September 24, 2010
UK Premiere: October 15, 2010
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures

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