Take to the Skies with “Legend of the Guardians”
By Roxana Hadadi
The name “Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole” is certainly a mouthful, especially for any young child that’s interested in seeing this flick about two rival owl factions who fight over the ethical course of their future. It’s kind of like “Lord of the Rings,” but adapted to fowl – and it’s just as epically easy on the eyes.
Some of the past year’s most top-grossing films have been animated ones heralded for their visuals – such as “Avatar,” which was rereleased with extra footage a few months ago, and “Toy Story 3,” one of the best summer blockbusters – and it’s undeniable that “Legend of the Guardians” deserves all the praise it can get. Adapted for the big screen by director Zack Snyder from a 15-book series, “Guardians of Ga’Hoole,” by Kathryn Lasky, the film nods at “LOTR,” “Star Wars” and a whole bunch of other classic flicks in its depiction of an uprising by a group of fascist owls bent on commandeering the entire civilization for their evil plans. For example, the main baddie wears a mask (ahem, Darth Vader) and the good guys care more about saving nature than investing in technology and military might (you know, like Hobbits).
But Lasky and Snyder have chosen good films to emulate, and as a result, “Guardians” pops off the screen. The film begins by introducing us to an owl family living in the land of Ga’Hoole, with eldest brother Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten), younger brother Soren (Jim Sturgess) and baby owlet Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria); while Eglantine idolizes her two older brothers, Soren and Kludd constantly butt heads because of Soren’s affection for stories and myths. Kludd is especially tired of Soren’s gushing over the Guardians, warrior owls who appear in times of hardship to protect owls everywhere – he rolls his eyes whenever Soren begins to describe how “there’s nothing wrong with dreams.” But despite Kludd’s doubt, the brothers’ parents are sure to stress the importance of such tales: “Stories are part of our culture,” father Noctus (Hugo Weaving) explains.
Noctus isn’t with Soren and Kludd, though, when they decide to go branching – or jumping from branch to branch in an attempt to learn how to fly – by themselves, fall to the ground and are kidnapped by two rogue owls (you know they’re bad because they have nose rings) who fly them far away to a decrepit, rocky land they’ve never been before. There, the brothers are introduced to the pure-white female owl Nyra (Helen Mirren), who claims their families abandoned them and that they must now work for the Pure Ones, a group of owls who will become their new family. Soren isn’t buying it – but when he stands up for himself and his new friend Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Nyra orders them to be used as pickers. In contrast, Kludd, who keeps quiet and refuses to acknowledge Soren as his brother, becomes a soldier, a coveted position in the Pure Ones’ hierarchy.
That division, the betrayal of brother by brother, is what drives the rest of Kludd’s and Soren’s respective character development. While Soren struggles to avoid being moon-blinked (a kind of weird amnesia where owls become mindless zombies after sleeping while staring at the moon) and plots an escape with Gylfie to find the Guardians and bring them to foil the Pure Ones, Kludd revels in the attention from Nyra, who tests his speed and agility to train him into being a ruthless killer. And when it comes time for each brother to choose his path, you can guess how Soren and Kludd choose – but what happens after that, with the battle between the Pure Ones and the Guardians, is more exciting than your typical Mufasa vs. Scar scenario.
That goes for parents, too, who can enjoy watching the film just as much as their children. Simply put, “Guardians” looks astounding, with precisely detailed visuals that marvel in 3-D: You can basically count every fluff of hair on owlet Eglantine’s head, and when the owls seem to fly out of the screen, the fluttering of their multilayered, beautifully hued feathers is similarly impressive. Beginning with the opener, where an owl twirls and swoops through the forest to Kludd’s and Soren’s tree home, the 3-D is consistently used to fantastic effect. Snyder, who has previously directed comic-book adaptations “300” and “Watchmen,” is known for his penchant to slow down certain scenes and focus on specific action sequences, and he also does that especially well here, during battle scenes that pit owls with metal-tipped talons against those wielding samurai-style knives. The violence isn’t gratuitous, though; it’s more implied than gory, with helmets flying off owls to imply their death rather than spurts of blood.
Of course, the film’s themes – like the difference between right and wrong or democracy and fascism – are boiled down for a young audience, so the Pure Ones are bad because of their domineering militarism and the Guardians are good because of their education-based pursuit of justice. But it’s surprising how well the film rejects the idea of bloodthirstiness for its own sake and instead presses the idea that violence is only the last option, not the first. That kind of unexpected sincerity and the jaw-dropping beauty of Ga’Hoole makes “Legend of the Guardians” one of this fall’s best bets for children and parents alike.
Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “Easy A.”
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