Watching Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole feels at times akin to watching Happy Feet… that is, if the penguins had donned armor and fought to the death in an arctic battle during the final act. Sure, many children’s movies have tackled disturbing and adult themes in the past (The Witches being a personal favourite), but it’s tough to pin down who the target audience is here, or what exactly the point of this particular effort might be.
Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) is an impressionable forest dweller who loves the mythical tales of the legendary Owls of Ga’Hoole, protectors of his species’ kingdom. After a struggle with his rebellious brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), the two become lost and are kidnapped by a sect of sinister owls, led by a disfigured Metal Beak (Joel Edgarton) and his cold, cruel mate Nyra (Helen Mirren).
Once at their lair, young recruits are forced to survive military training or be “moon blinked” into blank-faced, zombie-like workers. Duties include collecting neon, magnetically-charged flecks from owl pellets that will somehow incapacitate the gizzards of the Guardians and render them vulnerable. The details don’t make a whole lot of sense – we’re just supposed to accept it at face value. While Kludd thrives in the disturbingly Third Reich-like environment, Soren escapes with a small Elf Owl named Gylfie (Emily Barclay) and together they fly to warn the Guardians of an impending battle for control of Ga’Hoole.
This is a gorgeously produced film, with beautiful visuals from beginning to end. The animation is admittedly very impressive, particularly during the soaring sequences that feature the owls in graceful flight. They float over the vast landscape, camera following with an eye-pleasing smoothness. Other than a protruding beak, the occasional claw, and wing feathers, the 3D is subtle and little is thrown out of the screen and into audience’s face.
However, there are bizarre tonal shifts that may result in crying children and miffed adults. Moments of maudlin owl cuteness shift into grim violence, punctuated by ineffective and out of place jokes and gags. The result is an inconsistent and, at times, inappropriately peculiar and off-putting vibe.
The climax, pitting the owls in several battles to the death (one is impaled, another plunges into searing flames) seems a bit extreme, especially in contrast with the bouncy, bubble gum pop track that follows minutes later over the end credits.
The movie also attempts to point out that warfare is anything but glamorous, with its vicious battle scenes providing some evidence — although they do feature majestically glossy, flashy slow-motion battle shots of the mysteriously armor-plated animals in action — yet, by the time the brutal climax is over, Soren is excitedly retelling his adventures to eager baby owls ready to take up the fight – more hints as to the schizophrenic nature of the movie.
Legend of the Guardians is certainly a visual treat, but often resembles a series of sequences designed simply to look “cool” without consideration of their effect on the story or mood. Whether or not one can overlook these very odd inconsistencies will ultimately determine their appreciation for this movie.
2.5 out of 5