A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Trust Your Gizzard | LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE

In action, Animation, Family on September 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

The strange detour Zack Snyder has taken before giving us his first “original” movie, SUCKER PUNCH, after the comic book adaptations of 300 and WATCHMEN, is the animated family movie, LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE. It’s produced by the same animation studio that created HAPPY FEET – which was another movie from a genre director (George Miller, he of MAD MAX fame) that won over audiences, and made us overdose on overly-cute realistically rendered birds.

This time around the birds aren’t quite as cute – well, some of them are – as they sport long, metal talons; gilded iron helmets; and have a taste for enslaving all other creatures. The movie plays as a cross between LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SECRET OF NIHM. Yes, with a little 300 thrown in too. Snyder handles it all very well, and I came out of the movie having quite enjoyed it. Plus there’s a character named Bubo – which, yes, is the species name for owls; but also plays a heavy part in every 80’s movie geek’s heart, and was sadly missing from this year’s CLASH OF THE TITANS. (There, I got that off my chest.)

The story, as most of these stories do, follows young owlet Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess – ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), who is obsessed with the stories his father tells about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole (the actual title of the books this movie is based on), and their victory over the “Pure Ones” leader “Metal Beak” – the story of which, is only alluded and shown the smallest of peeks, but is pretty gruesome, nonetheless. Soren and his brother Krudd (Ryan Kwanten – TRUE BLOOD), get kidnapped (birdnapped?) by some horned owls (this movie will do wonders for teaching kids – and adults – the difference between varieties of owls) and taken to the very place that Metal Beak (voiced by Joel Edgerton – ANIMAL KINGDOM) and his mate Nyra (voiced by Helen Mirren – a coupling I’d find very interesting to see in a live-action movie; though she’d probably then be relegated to playing his mother), runs with plans of burning down all other owl kingdoms to prove their own superiority.

Naturally Soren escapes, along with an Elf Owl named Gylfie (Emily Barclay – her first real state-side role, seemingly), and eventually also teams up with giant Grey Owl, Twilight (voiced by Anthony LaPaglia – WITHOUT A TRACE and a favorite of mine MIXED NUTS; also I had no idea he was Australian!) and Digger (David Wenham – 300, LORD OF THE RINGS). They find the guardians. Battle ensues, and fun is had by all. The cast also has the voices of Abby Cornish, Sam Neill, Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush and Hugo Weaving (naturally). It’s pretty much the HARRY POTTER of Australian casting. Actually the only downside to all these great actors lending their voices to this movie, is that with the entire cast (barring a snake and a porcupine or something) are owls. And no matter how hard they work to differentiate the characters, it is still hard to tell who’s who, sometimes.

Despite the movie falling into a number of the tried and true genre-mainstays – brother vs. brother; father-mentor types “training” our heros – there are a number of great and fascinating twists. For one, is the subject matter itself. The owls here are amazing and just as powerful and frightening as the real-life creatures are. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an owl in person, but being one of the few birds that has forward-facing eyes, it’s disarming to see them stare you down. Also, interesting here is the production design. Gilded iron, used for helmets, talon gauntlets and most interestingly, decorative architecture. It adds a mystery and fascinating look to what could have been just birds in trees with nests and whatever else. Though, I will admit that a couple of scenes actually showing the birds working as a black-smith or other technological devices, kind of ruined the illusion. (I’d imagine that if owls were to develop a way to score and mold metal, they might go about it in other ways than how humans do. But it’s a minor quibble.)

Also one of the more interesting, and interestingly conceived, devices in the movie is the “weapon” by which Metal Beak is planning to defeat other owls. There are these glowing, metal flecks that when combined create a magnetic field of sorts that effects a bird’s gizzard, rendering them helpless. Metal Beak’s way of working with these lethal ingredients are to use bats. Bats, which are terrifying and amazingly rendered. Even more frightening because of the fact that all of the animals in this movie are pretty much the same size; so seeing bats combat our heros – in the same size ratio, is really scary.

Then finally, there was the 3-D. Long-time readers probably won’t know this anymore than anyone else; but I’m not a big 3-D guy. And while, I can’t say that LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS needs to be seen in 3-D. It definitely wasn’t a detractor like in other, more recent forays into that medium. (Again see the Bubo-less, CLASH OF THE TITANS, or THE LAST AIRBENDER, from what I hear.) There are in fact a number of moments – using Snyder’s now trademark, “slo-mo action” that uses the 3-D well, but really just highlights the craft that has gone into creating these magnificent birds and the ways in which it’s imagined they’d fight.

The movie is thrilling, brutal in some aspects (I’m amazed, actually that it’s snuck by with a PG as opposed to the much more common family fare rating of PG-13), and really gives us an interesting adventure that doesn’t stray too far from the tried and true, Hero’s Journey. While there is definitely humor here, this is a much more serious movie, and goes back to my memory of THE SECRETS OF NIHM. An animated movie that had some funny parts – Jeremy, the crow voiced by Dom Deluise – but deep-down was a dark and tragic story.

I’d definitely say, go see it. Take the kids. But don’t be surprised if there are some moments that the smaller ones might get scared. Especially the bats…Eck, just creeepy.

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  1. I didn’t see it in 3D. Too basd I missed out. But still good nonetheless. Not all that scary for little ones 2D I don’t think though, because I was surprised to read you saying that here. Its too bad though that there has to be yet another movie portraying bats as terrifying. They really don’t deserve it. (Mammals that fly? All the power to them!) Lol

  2. There are no porcupines in Australia so it was an echidna

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