DVD Review: Mixing impressive imagery and action thrills with goofy fantasy clichés (and a slightly unnerving “Let’s Go to War!” message), Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a gorgeous, above-average kids’ action film that adults won’t mind much.
Zack (300, Watchmen) Snyder’s CG adaptation of Kathryn Lasky’s series for young readers is a perfectly lovely fantasy film, showing off a lush visual palette that’s much more naturalistic and layered than most animated kids’ movies, including thick forests, vast skies, and big, rolling seas. (The nice thing about a film about nocturnal owls is it’s often Magic Hour—that brief orange-pink sunlight at dusk or dawn.)
The story is the usual (Joseph) Campbell’s Soup—the familiar Hero’s Quest from King Arthur, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter… only this time with owls. (There’s even a villain wearing a metal mask to hide his disfiguring facial scars—a sort of Owl Vader… or Dr. Whooo-m. Sorry—that’s my only owl pun, I promise.)
There are some good owls, including the young, brave dreamer Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his headstrong bro-owl Kludd (Ryan Kwanten). Early on they get kidnapped by the evil Pure Ones—fascist owls building a winged Master Race. Kludd gets seduced by the Purity and Order Through Strength ideology of the Nat-zi owls (led by Helen Mirren and Joel Edgerton), while Soren escapes, fluttering off with some wacky new pals to find the Legendary Guardians, mythical super-warrior owls. (They’re Jedi with beaks.) The Guardians are good, the Hitler Owls are bad, so eventually they have a huge, confusing battle in slow motion.
Legend of the Guardians isn’t free of epic fantasy clichés, but there’s no denying the power of its heavy hitting vocal cast of British and Aussie actors, including Hugo Weaving, Abbie Cornish, Richard Roxburgh, Miriam Margolyes, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham and Anthony LaPaglia.
Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Owls of War
It does take a little time to get used to and emotionally connect with the owls—they are by evolutionary design a somewhat unnerving-looking species, with those flat white faces and big spooky eyes. And yes, they look kind of silly wearing war helmets. (You can’t help but think of this.) And there’s lots of owlish talk about regurgitated pellets and trusting your gizzard.
But Snyder, for all his muscular visual acumen, can get a little tripped up in his own sense of epic war grandeur. He loves him some slow motion, but when it comes to fighting, even with the CG down cranked to quarter speed it’s often impossible to tell what’s going on in the battle scenes–who’s clawing whom.
One thing about Guardians stuck in my gullet: It feels very war-mongering for little kids, like a child’s version of 300. As a childhood fan of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, I get that epic clashes and young heroes proving themselves in combat are a big part of most major fantasy tales, but Guardians is a little too eager to beat the battle drums. With a brief note that war is indeed hell, everything else in the film is about the Glory of Fighting, Killing, and Dying for a Good Cause, and while that makes for a thrilling story, I felt just a little queasy about it being aimed at such young viewers.
But if you can gloss over that–and the film’s sometimes dopey dialogue and overstuffed plot–Legend of the Guardians is an always sumptuous, sometimes thrilling visual treat.
More animated family fun from redbox:
- Despicable Me on DVD and Blu-ray
- The Dolphin
- Shrek Forever After on DVD and Blu-ray
- Toy Story 3 on DVD and Blu-ray (read my full review)
- Monsters vs. Aliens (read my full review)
- Up (read Erika’s full review)
- How to Train Your Dragon on DVD and Blu-ray (read my full review)
- The Missing Lynx
- Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back
More Fantasy Adventure for Kids and Teens from redbox:
- Prince of Persia on DVD and Blu-ray (read my full review)
- Clash of the Titans on DVD and Blu-ray (read my full review)
- Alice in Wonderland (read my full review)
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians on DVD and Blu-ray (read Erika’s full review)
- Under the Mountain
- Secret of Moonacre