Soaring Visuals in the Owl Legends of the Half-Blood Lightening Thief's Vampire Assistant in the Two Towers

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars
Grimble: Then you're gonna need to fly a long way to get to the Guardians.
Soren: You mean they're real?
Grimble: Oh, they're real alright.
A fairly standard adventure story about a plucky, young hero embarking on a quest to save those he cares for, aided by his friends while acquiring new skills and learning some lessons along the way.  Like other similar films, this one is based on a bestselling series of novels, but what separates it is the fact that the characters in this film are owls.  Despite its familiar story and fairly cheesy basis, the film does benefit from being a very good looking animated feature, with many well staged flying sequences, some slick action beats, and a solid use of 3D, all of which give the film a nice dynamic feel.

The story begins with Soren and Kludd (voiced by Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe and Ryan Kwanten of True Blood) as brothers learning how to fly.  Soren is a young dreamer while Kludd is more hot tempered.  One evening, the two of them sneak out to practice use of their young wings, only to be kidnapped by mean, nasty owls.   Soon enough, Soren and Kludd find themselves in the evil lair of sinister owls known as The Pure Ones, led by none other than the evil Metalbeak (named so due to the loss of his real beak and replaced with a metal one, forged by an owl blacksmith, presumably an evil blacksmith).

While Kludd falls victim to the dark side, Soren manages to escape, along with a young elf owl, and the two make their way to find the legendary Guardians - the super cool owls, who are the only ones able to give the evil owls a beat down when necessary.  During this time, Soren makes some more friends along the way, as well as his personal Guardian hero, Ezylrb (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), who helps Soren to "think with his gizzard."

Much like Happy Feet, the film is essentially a who's who of Australian actors, featuring other voices such as Hugo Weaving, Sam Neil, David Wenham, and Anthony LaPaglia in addition to Helen Mirren as the second in command to Metalbeak (a statement I hope to make note of more in the future).

Interestingly enough, this film was directed by Zach Snyder.  Much like Robert Rodriguez, who has managed to balance directing hard R-rated features such as Desperado and From Dusk til Dawn with directing more family friendly fare such as the Spy Kid series, Snyder has apparently taken a break from making more films like 300 and Watchmen to direct this young adult oriented adventure film.  Regardless of the content in these movies; however, this film still has Snyder's touch all over it.  The film is quick paced and slickly designed.  The action manages to contain Snyder's style of merging slo-mo with a rapid speed up to give it that "cool" effect and make sure one can very much understand what is taking place.  It is all quite effective, and the use of 3D only heightens the experience.

This is a film that was made for 3D, opposed to converted after the fact, and the difference is always clear.  In a film like this (which, along with How to Train Your Dragon, has the year's best look and use of 3D), having frequent sequences where owls are soaring through the skies truly makes it all worth it.  Regardless of the quibbles I will get to, this film looks great and has some truly awe-inspiring moments that easily justify the reasons for why the big screen is the best place to view this film.

Still, as good as the visuals are, the film's story is incredibly straight forward and simple.  It's a very familiar hero's journey, with good and bad guys being very clearly defined from the get go.  What bugged me more was not knowing the real purpose of these characters.  The Pure Ones are basically evil for the sake of being evil.  All they seem to want to do is kill the Guardians; but then what?  And for a film very much focused on having our hero's find the Guardians, we don't really learn anything about them, aside from one.

I understand that this is a film aiming to engage younger audiences, let alone fans of what I assume is a very popular book series, but I feel I should still make note of these issues.  I can easily say that I enjoyed this film more than many of the other recent epic/adventure book series adaptations (here's looking at you Percy Jackson), but having another level of complexity or deepening the characters present couldn't hurt.

Visually, this film is excellent.  From a storytelling standpoint, it needs improvement.  Still, the film is quite engaging throughout; as it rarely slows down to draw too much focus on its shortcomings.  Plus, aerial battles are pretty cool, along with 3D slo-mo owl dives straight downwards.  For a film that has such an unwieldy title and a somewhat goofy first impression, I was quite satisfied and ended up giving a hoot.
Boron: When you've flown as far as you can, you're halfway there!
Gylfie: What did he say?
Digger: We're halfway there!
Note:  Before the film started, Warner Bros. treated its audiences with an all new 3D CG animated Looney Tunes cartoon, featuring Wyle E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.  I got a great sense of nostalgia from this and hope to see more in the future.  Plus it's nice for kids who didn't grow up with the cartoons.


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