Not for Children
The alluring trailer for the 3-D animated Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole features beautiful owls and suggests an engaging story of mystery and heroism. I can understand what a draw this would be for families and children. But after the first 10 minutes, the film seems more like a violent video game with the majority of the owls viciously attacking each other.
Based on the book Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky, the story begins with a lovely family scene of owls. Two siblings Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) are about to learn the most important thing for an owl -- to fly. It’s clearly established that the bothers have distinctly different personalities. Soren, in awe of this father, is charmed by the idea of being a hero to fellow feathered mates like those in the stories his father has told them. Kludd sees himself more as a warrior than a hero, which may be the result of his father’s obvious favoritism to his brother.
As the brothers test out their flying skills, they end plunging far below to the ground -- and soon each one faces a different fate. Kludd -- taken to the ominous home of the Pure Ones -- is instantly beguiled by Nyra (voiced by Helen Mirren), who picks him out of the menial work force there, then makes him believe he’s special and will be trained as an elite warrior. Soren escapes this kidnapping and journeys to the land of the Guardians where he helps plan a daring rescue of this brother and baby sister Eglantine (voiced by Adrienne DeFaria).
I found the rest of this movie to be horrible and definitely not for children. In scene after dark scene owls wearing frightening head gear dual each other to death. I’m not sure what screenwriters John Orloff (A Mighty Heart) and Emil Stern (The Life Before Her Eyes) intended in adapting and gearing the film to children, but I don’t think there is anything heroic about settling differences with a dual to death.
While realizing it’s difficult to determine the precise caliber of direction in an animated film, I was puzzled by the choice of Zach Snyder as director here. He helmed 300 and Watchmen, two films that were intended to be dark. Maybe such an intention carried over too much in this project. Animal Logic, the production team for Legend, was responsible for the outstanding Oscar-winning Happy Feet, and because of the notation in the trailer and poster indicating that Legend is from the studio that brought you Happy Feet, it’s an obvious misdirection about the content of this sheep in wolves clothing – but it does have great animation.
For the most part, children at the screening I attended were quiet. However, several families did walk out. About half-way through the film, my own feeling about Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole was confirmed when a shrill cry filled the theater as a young voice bellowed out, “I don’t like this movie, Mama. I want to leave.”
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG” for some sequences of scary action.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.