September 30, 2010


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Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (PG)
Good owls battle bad owls for the future of all owlkind in Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, an animated kids’ movie with eye-catching, super-detailed visual effects.

Amazing. Awe-inspiring, even. The visual effects. Just lovely. And the rest of the movie? Well… did I mention those pretty, pretty visuals?

Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is a young owl just learning to fly and full of the stories his dad tells about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a group of Jedi-like owls who protected the owl kingdoms from threats by bad guy owls. His brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), who is also learning to fly but isn’t a natural born flyer like Soren, doesn’t believe in all that folderol and is irked that their parents and their sister Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) tolerate Soren’s dreaminess. One day when they’re hopping around the branches of their family tree, practicing flight, they fall to the ground and are attacked by assorted teeth-having, bird-eating creatures. Because they aren’t quite able to fly on their own, they seem like goners until two bigger owls show up to rescue them — wait, are they rescuing the brothers or kidnapping them? Soon, Soren and Kludd find themselves in a dark and scary mountain range where they are told that they, along with other young kidnapped owls, are orphans and will now be taught to work for the Pure Ones. The Pure Ones are a group — led by Nyra (Helen Mirren) and her mate Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton), one of the bad guys in Soren’s dad’s stories — of genetically superior owls, so Nyra tells the young “orphans.” When a little owl, Gylfie (Emily Barclay), is pointed out as part of an inferior race of owls, Soren objects and he and Gylfie are sent to the hard-labor section of the mountain where the owls are moonblinked, put into a state of zombie-like acceptance of fate brought about by staring at the moon. Soren and Gylfie only pretend to get moonblinked and are able to escape by getting a crash course in flight from a guard. But when a fight ensues during their escape and Kludd gets a chance to join them, he chooses instead to stick with Nyra and become a member of the owl SS.

Because while these owls (voiced mostly by Brits) all seem to have vaguely Australian accents and Gaelic names the Pure Ones shtick is all Nazi.
Lots more happens after this — I’ve probably only walked you about 20 minutes into this movie which is just over an hour and a half but feels like it unfolds in an eternity of time. They journey to here, they have to discover something there; there are some more betrayals and a few big action scenes. And, again, it all looks great. Looks great. Despite being able to see the wind ruffle the features of our protagonist owls or see the bumps on their talons rendered with near-photo-like perfection, I just can’t bring myself to give a crap about owls. Owls in real life? Sure. Owls in nature films, where they swoop in to eat woodland creatures? Who wouldn’t like that? But these owls, with their emotionally flat faces and their empty-shell characters? Meh, what else is on?

Everything in this movie felt like the talking-tree sections of The Lord of the Rings movies. Sure, it looks good and I, you know, “get it” but I don’t care about these characters (and there are way too many of them) or their motivations. I mean, what are their motivations? There are a few characters who want to control the owl kingdom, but what does that even mean? These owls live in trees, eat mice, hock up pellets of indigestible mouse fur and bone, and lay eggs. Do they have some kind of representative government that is imperiled by the potential tyranny of these bad owls? I wouldn’t want to be ruled by anyone calling themselves the Pure Ones either but I’m not sure how owls are ruled by anyone. Do they pay taxes? Perhaps in mice? Will the Pure Ones impose such high mouse-tribute requirements that it will harm the small business owls?

Legends of the yada yada is the adaptation of three novels in a series of (more than a dozen) children’s books and so I assume that at least some of this will appeal to children. There is action and fighting, and some kids like that stuff. But it is also dark and filled with scary imagery of owls being tortured, enslaved and kidnapped. Not exactly the bedtime story you want to tell your four-year-old. And, the movie left me scared as well with the fact that it represents something like one-fifth of the existing stories in this universe and that it ended so cliff-hangerly I expected the old Batman “Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel” title card to precede the credits.

Good-looking? Yes, this movie is stunning. Filled with characters who are Brave and True? Yes, except where they are Evil and Cowardly. (There is good and there is bad and there is absolutely no gray in this movie — not an awful thing, necessarily, it’s just presented in a tiringly familiar Star Wars/Lord of the Rings way.) But, with its cumbersome mythology, nothing-special plot and forgettable characters, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole wears you out in about the time it takes to say its title. C+

Rated PG for some sequences of scary action. Directed by Zack Snyder and written by John Orloff and Emil Stern (from the novels by Kathryn Lasky), Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is an hour and 31 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.