It takes a certain level of talent for a noteworthy director to make the quantum leap from undeniably "adult" film entertainment to movies aimed at a considerably younger audience. Robert Rodriguez, however, has been effortlessly alternate between gorefests such as Machete and Planet Terror to kiddie fare like Shorts and the Spy Kids movies.
We can all agree that Zack Snyder, the man behind recent adult fare 300 and Watchmen, knows how to weave an entertaining story. But Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is his first-ever project for youngsters - as well as his first entirely animated one - so a few transitional lapses were to be expected. And they were, but not, I'm delighted to say, in the visual aspect of the film. But more on that later.
Though many members of the animal kingdom have been featured in movies, none have ever focused so heavily on owls. These owls, which are based on characters from the series of books by Kathryn Lasky, are hyper-intelligent creatures, who has mastered the arts of fire, writing and metallurgy. The myths of great owl warriors, known as the Guardians, are spun nightly by a barn owl named Noctus (Hugo Weaving) to his children: wide-eyed dreamer Soren (Jim Sturgess), the cynical, skeptical Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), and the extremely young Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria).
When Soren and Kludd have a mishap while learning to fly, they are abducted by a group of rogue owls who call themselves the "Pure Ones", led by the megalomaniacal Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his villainous queen, Nyra (Helen Mirren), whose are massing to take over all the owl kingdoms. Some abductees are brainwaished (in a process called "moon-blinking") and forced to scavenge for "flecks" - some otherworldly substance of enormous power - while others are recruited as soldiers. Soren wants no part of it, but Kludd, predictably, has other ideas.
Soren eventually finds a way to escape, and with a motley collection of companions; diminutive elf owl Gylfie (Emily Barclay), a wisecracking tracker named Digger (David Wenham) and a lute-playing warrior poet owl called Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia), they must find a way to warn the Guardians, led by the legendary Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush), who are the only hope of defeating the Pure Ones.
This was, hands down, one of the most incredible 3D films I have ever seen, Avatar included. While most 3D films are used to have things flying at your face (including the most recent Resident Evil movie), Snyder uses it to totally envelop you. The sunlight seems so real you almost feel warmed by it. And the microscopic detail involved, from the individual movement of every feather on every owl's body is just mind-blowing. If this is the future of 3D, then the future is good.
However, visuals alone do not make a movie outstanding (though they help), and Legend of the Guardians is not without its faults. Once you get past the thick Australian accents of most of the voice cast, there are also several instances where the script becomes just plain silly, probably to amuse the younger audience members that are this film's major target demographic. The back-and-forth between Digger and Twilight, for example, is worn-out and tired after a minute, and it lasts considerably longer than a minute.
There are plenty of battle scenes and violence, though there is, thankfully, no blood. Still, there are plenty of scary images, enough to probably keep parents from keeping their youngest kids from attending. And the combat scenes are also very well-realized, as the battle of good vs. evil showcases combative techniques that one would expect from owls. (One other amusing aside: the song that plays over the final credits is "To the Sky", which is performed by, you guessed it, Owl City.)
So if I'm scoring Legend of the Guardians on two different levels, it boils down to this: the visuals are an unqualified 10/10, and the story itself is roughly a 6/10. As a whole, it was very entertaining, but it could have been a lot better.
3 1/2 / 5 stars