How come the most genuinely affecting, emotional movies I’ve seen this year have been animated kids movies? First it was “How To Train Your Dragon”, and now we’ve got Zack Snyder’s “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”.
Snyder should stick to this genre. Before he was down with owls, “Dawn of the Dead” was by far his best movie, but it is nothing more than a decent spin on a classic that is exponentially better. “300” is overrated and annoying (at least in my humble opinion, I know there are a lot of fans out there). And “Watchmen” looks good, but is ultimately an empty adaptation of the comic.
With “Legends”, despite the generic title they came up with, Snyder crafts a story with moving characters, tension, drama, action, adventure, highs, lows, and a surprisingly dark tone. Even though it is intended for kids, the film has a predominantly sinister feel. There is danger and death all over the place. The villains are frightening, the threats are very real, and it reminded me of films like “The Dark Crystal”, in that there is the definite possibility that everything might not work out in the end.
Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young owl. He lives in a tree with his parents, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), and his baby sister. His father, voiced by Hugo Weaving, tells the boys the epic tales about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a cadre of noble owls who protect the owl kingdom, and once defeated and banished an evil king who was trying to wreck up the joint.
Soren is a dreamer. He latches onto his father’s stories, accepts them as absolute truth, and longs to do something great and epic. Kludd is a more skeptical. You can tell right away he’s a dick. He’s one of those spoiled brats who thinks the whole world is against him and his life is so hard even though he has it easy.
The boys are too young to fly for real, but one night they sneak out to practice gliding from branch to branch, and because Kludd is a tool, they wind up plummeting to ground and almost get eaten by some sort of red-eyed, rat-monkey-badger creature. Because Soren is the noble one who believes in things like honor, he saves Kludd while Kludd leaves his brother in harms way. Told you he was a dick.
Before they get torn to shreds, two big owls swoop down out of nowhere and scoop them up. For minute you think everything is going to be okay, but things don’t work out like that in this movie, and it turns out that the young owls have just been kidnapped and are about to become slaves.
The kidnapping owls work for Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton), the evil king from the Guardian myths, and his mate Nyra (Helen Mirren). He is the leader of what amount to a gang of white-supremacist owls, and spouts Nazi-like rhetoric while wearing a creepy metal mask. One thing this movie teaches you about owls is how skilled they are at metallurgy. Hell, the group is called “The Pure Ones”. Before they can be brainwashed, Soren and his new friend Gylfie (Emily Barclay) learn to fly and are able to escape to search for the Guardians. Kludd, however, is seduced by the power offered by these racists, and chooses to stay and become the equivalent of a storm trooper, and I don’t mean that in the “Star Wars” sense.
On their journey Soren and Gylfie assemble an unlikely collection of fellow travelers, including a burrow owl, a snake, and warrior-poet owl with a lute. After an arduous flight, and an encounter with a psychedelic echidna, they finally locate the Guardians, and the ultimate confrontation is set in motion.
The story is full of intrigue, betrayal, and deceit, and the overwhelming point is that war is hell, no matter what you’re fighting for. When Soren meets his hero, the legendary Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush), he discovers a broken down old owl covered in scars and disfigured by battle. You don’t fight, he says, because it is glamorous, you fight because it is right.
The animation is beautiful, and Snyder’s shtick, the excessive, painful slow motion that he is so fond of, actually serves to accentuate that. When Soren flies through a raging storm, the film slows down so you can see every single feather ruffle, and every single one of the swirling raindrops. There are obvious parallels with the look of “Avatar”, but “Legend of the Guardians” actually has a good story to support the incredible visuals.
There are two serious problems with the film, and the first is the biggest. “The Guardians of Ga’Hoole” is a series of children’s books by Kathryn Lasky. The film is based on the first three of those books, and the action is obviously very compressed to fit into 90 minutes. On one hand, this means that the plot is always going going going, which helps keep younger crowds engaged, but on the other hand, it means that there are a lot of things that are glossed over quickly.
Snyder gives you what you need to care about the main characters and keep you interested on a surface level, but there are moments where it would have been nice to have things developed, and where you can tell that, in the books, there is much more time spent. Because of this, the story never goes as deep as it could have, and, as is a trend with Snyder’s movies, it feels a little light in the end. That is a shame because there is a world of potential here. “Legends” is still really good, and still a movie you should see, but it could have been even better.
Most of the movie has this wonderful, epic score, full of orchestral instrumentation that completely fits the epic nature of the film. Then, right smack in the middle, is one of the worst songs ever written by some douche bag with a synthesizer who calls himself Owl City. It’s awful. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s the most vapid, watered down Death Cab For Cutie (which is already pretty watered down to begin with) knock off, and it clashes with everything else in the movie, which is well done and classy.