Cinematic Flashback: The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010) Review
With the peace restored, it was time for celebration, and recognition that our small band of owls, who fate and a storm had blown into the Tree, now stood before its king and queen as young Guardians. Ready finally, with all their hearts, to take that ancient oath: To mend the whose are broken, to make strong the weak, and without hesitation, vanquish the evil as Jason’s Movie Blog revisits the animated fantasy epic film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga ’Hoole.
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE
“On his way to finding a legend….he will become one”
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: John Orloff and Emil Stern
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten, Joel Edgerton, Hugo Weaving, Geoffery Rush, and Helen Mirren
Run Time: 97 Minutes
Release Date: September 24th, 2010
Noctus (Hugo Weaving), the owl, never gets tired to telling epic stories about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole to his young barn owlets, including Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), Soren (Jim Sturgess), and their younger sister, Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria). Soren and Eglantine love the story, but jealous Kludd gets bored with the tales of the protectors of the Kingdom of Ga’Hoole, feeling that the stories are childish daydreams. One day, Soren and Kludd fall out of their nest while learning to fly alone and they are kidnapped by a group of evil owls, who work under the rule of Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton) and his mate, Nyra (Helen Mirren). The owlets are divided into soldiers or workers in the Pelletorium, with Soren befriending the elf owl Gylfie (Emily Barclay), while Kludd becomes trained to a fierce fighter. After learning that Metal Beak’s “Pure Ones” followers are brainwashing their captives by ways and means of “moon-blinking”, Soren and Gylfie mange to escape, with the intent of finding the Guardians of Ga ‘Hoole to thwart Metal Beak’s plan and meeting up with Digger (David Wenham) and Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia). As Soren and his companions’ journey to find the Great Tree of Ga ‘Hoole, Metal Beak and Nyra’s endgame plan bears fruit, with Kludd being manipulated towards their dark ideals and their army of “Pure Ones”.
Working at a bookstore for more than a decade and a half, I remember reading a lot of kid’s book series /(Young Reader / Young Adult novels) that revolved animals in a sort of fantasy-esque landscape and / or nuances. This includes such popular ones as Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, Kenneth Oppell’s Silverwing series, and Erin Hunter’s Warrior series just to name a few. Among these category is author Kathryn Lasky, who wrote the owl series The Guardians of Ga’Hoole. I remember seeing all these books at work (shelved them on there) and was quite curious about the series, especially since it was quite an expansive collection (I believe that there was 15 in total of the main story). Around this time, I heard that a movie was coming out that would be based off of Lasky’s novels, so I decided to pick a few of them up. Thankfully, I picked up the first three books as the movie is actually based off of those ones (The Capture, The Journey, and The Rescue). For the movie, the trailer looked amazing. The animation showcases was gorgeous and the preview evoked that sense of children’s fantasy adventure that I always love. So, I definitely wanted to see the movie when it came out in theaters, but I never had the chance to see it and was able to finally view when it came out on DVD a few months later (I think it was in December of 2010). Since then, I’ve watched it a few times here and there (and enjoyed it), but never really broke it down and examined the animated feature from a movie reviewer’s perspective. Also, I haven’t watched in some time, so it was nice to actually sit down and watch it again. So, here are my thoughts on the film……
The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole was directed by Zack Snyder, whose other directorial releases include such films as 300, Watchmen, and (later on) Man of Steel. Given his other projects (past and current ones) have been more R-rated and / or even a PG-13 rating, Snyder does seem like an odd choice to helm a kid’s fantasy feature film endeavor in order to bring Lasky’s narrative to cinematic light. Despite that notion, Snyder does make his first outing in the kid’s arena of feature films to be quite the adventurous undertaking, with the movie still utilizing the director’s signature style of action and dramatic flourishes, including slow-motion scenes and the usage of 3D scene depictions (something that was common during this time of visual blockbuster filmmaking). Still, Snyder evokes that grandeur fantasy adventure within the feature, with a touch of The Lord of the Rings nuances in and out the story, including heroic deeds, a band of small heroes, a greater threat, several comical sidekick companions, heartfelt betrayal, and so on and so forth. It definitely all works and keeps The Legend of the Guardians feeling familiar as a “comfort food” for fantasy lovers.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect that the movie has to offer is how mature the story is. Of course, Lasky’s source material proves to have that “good vs. evil” conflict as well as many other nuances to help bolster the greater forces that Soren and his friends encounter, but makes no mistake that the movie does have influences of darker / heavier themes that one might expect. Metal Beak / Nyra’s “Pure Ones” mindset is an unmistakable illusion to the Nazi classism (believing that one particular owl class is superior to the others) as well as brainwashing manipulation as seen through the “moon blinking” of owls and through Kludd’s betrayal. Plus, the action scenes can be a little intense and dark at times, even if the movie’s rating is PG. I personally liked this movie and treats the movie with a more mature story to tell, with some realism splash onto the plot, even though the feature is set in a fantasy style realm of owls and other woodland creatures. There are still humorous bits and child-friendly material that the film sprinkles throughout, but, still, a word of caution out there for the young viewers out there.
As mentioned, the visual presentation for the film are absolutely gorgeous and has plenty to offer from its computer generated aesthetics. Everything in the film looks stunning, with a sense of photorealism, yet still looks something a tad more fantastical; a combination that works wonder on this project. The level of detail (even to this date) is quite amazing to behold from how all the different owls look (each one has a unique look them) to the various battle armor, helmets, and swords that are used during the action sequences. Additionally, the cinematography work for the feature is superb and, much like what I said above, has those very dramatic flourishes that Snyder is known for. Lastly, the film’s score by David Hirschfelder is top notch and boast plenty of dramatic and heroic themes throughout the composition, which helps bolster the fantasy epic that the movie wants to achieve.
There are a few points of criticism that have towards this movie that, while not hinder the feature in its entirety, but keeps it from being completely memorable. Perhaps the most notable one is how compressed the narrative is and the shortened potential that it had. As mentioned, the movie’s story is composed of the first three books of Lasky’s series, which are relatively short to begin with (for the most part), but the movie feels like its missing out on some key areas. This includes the journey to find the Tree of Ga’Hoole that Soren and his friends undertake seems relatively quick, their training to adapt to the ways and life style with the Guardians is presented as a montage, and purpose of several characters seems a bit clunky in their mechanics in the greater tale being told. Again, I know that the movie is a kid’s movie and has to keep with a somewhat runtime (97 minutes in length), but an additional ten to fifteen minutes could’ve been beneficial to the narrative to help flesh out certain events more and give more side character more screen time. Lastly, the movie does feature a pop song during a montage sequence and it sort of comes off a quite wonky and unnecessary. It’s definitely a catchy song, but feels out of the place within a fantasy epic that is comprised of various animal creatures.
The voice talent in the movie is solid across the board, with the assembled collection of voice actors / actresses delivering some amazing vocals for these respective animated characters. Actor Jim Sturgess gives a very native, yet wholesome sounding voice to Soren (something that feels right at home within the fantasy plot), while actress Emily Barclay and actors David Wenham and Anthony give humorous / comforting portrayals in Soren’s sidekick companions (Gylfie, Digger, and Twilight). Also, actor Geoffery Rush is fantastic as the grizzled and old war veteran of Ezylrb. On the villain side, actor Joel Edgerton and actress Helen Mirren give outstanding (and menacing) vocal performances in their portrayals of Metal Beak and Nyra, while actor Ryan Kwanten is spot on in his voice of Soren’s turncoat brother, Kludd. Other voice talents, including Sam Neil, Adrienne DeFaria, Richard Roxburgh, Abbie Cornish, Barry Otto, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving, round out the rest of supporting players in the movie and give great smaller character performances respectfully.
While the movie did make its money back, it wasn’t strong enough to fully develop a potential sequel endeavor of which the film’s conclusion leave partly open-ended. Still, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a solid animated fantasy epic that has plenty of visual promise. While the substance of the screenplay missed out on certain aspects, the gorgeously animated, has a terrific epic soundtrack, an fantasy adventure that’s fun and engaging to experience, sweeping action scenes, and a all-around great voice cast keeps the feature afloat, despite a few misgivings. It’s just a shame that this movie never got a sequel as I, for one, would still love to see one, especially since I know what happens later on in Lasky’s novels. In the end, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is stunning visual animated project that brings a sense of adventure and bravery that takes flight and (much like the movie) has plenty of baggy wrinkles for those looking to escape into a feature of courageous young owlets looking to see noble warriors to thwart evil.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.1 Out of 5
FUN FACT: Zack Snyder wanted to make a sequel to the movie. At the time, Animal Logic seemed interested in a sequel as well, but nothing ever manifested. Given that the studio and Snyder moved onto other projects, Animal Logic working on the LEGO Movie series and visual effects for the MCU and Snyder taking on the DCEU, hope for a Legend of the Guardians sequel fizzled out.