The Adventures of Some Owls

by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

EXPECTATIONS: Every year or two, Hollywood likes to put out an animated movie that combines a really unique visual design with a story that doesn't make one lick of sense. This year, they're giving Zack Snyder a shot with his movie about owl warriors or whatever the hell they're supposed to be. The trailers have been kinda off-putting. On the one hand, the animation looks great. On the other hand, it is a movie about owls, the scariest motherfuckers in the bird kingdom. At any rate, this looks to be Snyder's best animated movie since Watchmen.

REALITY: I like to complain about being sent out on expeditions to survey the latest talking animal movie, so it's refreshing to see one that seems more interested in storytelling and visual thrills than farting and referencing the Baja Men. That said, Legend of the Guardians succeeds at being a Zack Snyder joint, but doesn't seem to aspire to being anything more than "The Snyder Film Your Kids Can Watch". The realistic animation style is gorgeous, if cluttered at times, and the action is pretty intense. The plot, on the other hand, only resembles the barest components of an actual three-act story.

Here are some owls.

As the movie opens, we meet Soren and Kludd (Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten, respectively), a pair of young owls just learning to fly. After crashing to the ground one night, the two are scooped up and flown to the secret lair of the Pure Ones, a group of Nazi-esque owls who put the two into slavery. While Kludd gets drafted into their army, Soren is shipped off to the owl shit mines. There, he discovers the Pure Ones are harvesting flecks of metal from owl waste to power some kind of death machine. After escaping with fellow slave Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Soren flies off in search of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a legendary band of owls who I guess are the Impure Ones, if we're keeping with the movie's wonky idea of naming things? The Guardians teach Soren and his friends how to fight, how to navigate by the stars, and how to make little owl helmets in their blacksmith shop. When they discover that Soren's entire family and community are in danger, they all fly out to do battle with the Pure Ones and stop them once and for all.

Despite the lead sounding an awful lot like Elijah Wood, saying that Legend of the Guardians is anything like Happy Feet would be wildly inaccurate. Sure, the animation is every bit as crisp and realistic and the basic plot is about birds going somewhere, but that's where the similarities end. If I had to pick any other Elijah Wood movie to compare this to, I'd say it more resembles Lord of the Rings. Just imagine Frodo and his hobbit friends can fly, the ring is made of bird poo, and Mordor is populated solely by barn owls. Joking aside, the movie's lighting and color scheme do call to mind the Lord of the Rings films. The Pure Ones' lair looks an awful lot like Mordor, with all the barren lands and dark, ominous clouds that come with it. The film sticks pretty closely to Peter Jackson's visual palette, and it goes a long way in establishing this particular brand of dark fantasy.

Some more owls.Rounding out the odd connections to Lord of the Rings is Hugo Weaving. He lends his voice to two of the film's characters, Soren's father and a mentor owl named Grimble, though I suspect he filled in for a few other roles as well. As the master of the "Stern Elder Statesman" voice, Weaving is kind of perfect for this film. There are six or seven different characters in Legend of the Guardians who fit that description, and I'm positive he voices at least half of them. Rounding out the cast are Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Helen Mirren and David Wenham, all actors perfectly suited to voicing stern elder statesmen who just happen to be owls.

Now, is Legend of the Guardians a movie for kids? Yes and no. It is in the sense that they don't tend to make movies about talking owls for the over-13 crowd. Also, the film is based on a series of children's novels, so I suppose there's that, too. However, the movie does have quite a dark streak to it that might cause some parents to want to drag their kids out of the theater while the kids are shouting "THIS IS AWESOME!" The entire first act of the film is about kidnapping children and putting them into slavery. If illegal owl trafficking is a concept you don't mind explaining to your kids, then you've got to ask yourself how you feel about owls fighting each other with sharp objects.

And some owls. Just for variety.Now, there are really only so many ways that an owl can fight another owl in hand-to-hand combat. To start, fly feet-first and hope you grab something while flapping around like a jackass. After two or three fight scenes, they realized that the talon-fighting was getting kind of boring, which is why they then introduce little swords and Freddy Krueger gloves for the owls to use in combat. This gives Zack Snyder the opportunity to use his favorite cinematic technique: the slow-fast-slow action shot (someone really needs to come up with a better name for this). In general, we can't see what the hell's going on in most of these fights and battle scenes, so it makes sense that Snyder would want to slow things down every other shot just to show us all the awesome owl fighting we're missing.

This would have actually worked if owls fighting were in any way as interesting as people fighting, but the fact of the matter is that it's just a lot of flapping around. Cue the slow-fast-slow close-ups, which take a bunch of birds just kinda flying around and turn that into an epic battle in which a bunch of birds just kinda fly around. Try to imagine 300 if all the battle scenes were slap-fights.

Legend of the Guardians doesn't have nearly the ecological bent of Happy Feet (thank god), nor the dopey sci-fi grandstanding of last year's 9 (which it may have benefited from). It's pretty content to just be a movie about owls on a quest to rescue some other owls. If you can convince yourself that you don't mind a CG spectacle that's incredibly light on actual story, you might find yourself really enjoying Legend of the Guardians. At least until Zack Snyder starts going "Dudes, check this shit out in sloooooooo-moooo!"

CGI Owls in 3-D15/10
CGI Owls Fighting in 3-D6/10
Frodo Baggins Vs. The Shredder?Awesome!

MINORITY REPORT: I'll have two for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls ,,, ugh ... The Owls of Fucking Ga'Hooooole! -most people

– Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade and Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider (@professorclumsy)

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