Before I entered my theater to see Legend of the Guardians, my friend I was seeing it with asked me what I really wanted to see in the film. While he was really in it for story and characters (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I simply told him I was simply seeing the movie to watch a bunch of owls fight each other in the same glorious 3D I saw in the trailer. Thankfully, owls fighting in three dimensions was exactly what I got in one of the best-animated films of the year, and in the same year that we got Toy Story 3, that’s saying something. The film follows the story of a young owl named Soren, who’s always had his head in the clouds dreaming of the mystical Guardians of Ga’Hoole. After the forlorn army of the evil Metal Beak kidnaps him and his brother, it becomes Soren’s responsibility to save the owl kingdom and ultimately kick some owl tail. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, the film isn’t made by the powerhouses Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, Sony’s Animation studio Blue Sky, but by the Warner Bros. animation company that we really haven’t seen since 2006’s Happy Feet, which has to be one of the most infectiously cute films I’ve ever seen. Although I’ll get to that later, this film is by no means that cute, but maybe that’s because it’s director is use to blue schlongs and Spartan kicks. In case you can’t hold your suspense any longer, the film does look just as gorgeous as you might have originally hoped. The film has some gorgeous looking environments that feel as real as the creativity in the film, from the deep caves of Metal Beak’s fortress to the few moments in the film, showcasing sea or just nature, where it seems like Snyder’s just showing off. Dreamworks is sort of the middle of the road when it comes to animating their films, and Pixar is still the king, but the undoubtedly talented team behind Guardians displays the same sort of knack for their trade as their director did both a year and three years ago with both 300 and Watchmen’s game-changing spectacle of visuals. As far as 3D goes, I can only judge about 3/4 of the film’s 3D, seeing as I was accidentally sent to the wrong theater by my theater’s usher and only realized his mistake when I noticed no one else was wearing 3D glasses. That being said, the film’s first 1/4 that I missed was pretty devoid of the film’s true 3D spectacle, but the other 3/4 of the film’s three dimensional spectacle (neglecting the cliché) is some of the best implementation of the technology since Avatar. It puts a lot of the industry’s post conversion to shame, and stands amongst How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3 as what can really be done with the so called “future of cinema”. Hyperbolic jargons aside, there are some jaw-dropping scenes of 3D prowess in Guardians (the twister/hurricane scene, 99% of the battle scenes) that make this film a have-to-see-in-three-dimensions film event. It’s not going to be known for capturing the sense of flight How to Train Your Dragon did, but there are times in Guardians it’s hard not to be inspired by the heights being displayed in mind-shattering 3D. Thankfully there’s not a single voice cast member in the film that grated on my nerves (except for my exposed nerve ending for cuteness), which is great especially if you’re looking forward to hearing owls with cockney accents. (Lead actor) does the voice for Soren and there’ll be more than one comparison to Frodo from LOTR. (Twilight, Digger, Metal Beak) Anthony Lapaglia, Joel Edgerton, and David Wenham are all just delightful as their respective owl counterparts. Geoffrey Rush who was known for his classic role as Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean series was the stand out for me though as Soren’s mentor/hero. Hearing the same voice that led the Black Pearl through the Maelstrom lead an attack force of owls is hard for my nerd heart to handle. It’s like a myocardial infarction of geek-dom.
Many things can be said about Snyder’s films of the past, whether it’s self-indulgence, poor writing, too much blue wang (hooray for two blue wong references in the same review), or more commonly a whole lot of slow motion, but whether it’s the fact that he’s becoming a better at his job as a director or the animation field suits his skills in a truly fine way, Guardians definitely isn’t his best film to date but is a fine balance of his filmmaking talents. Snyder takes his time introducing the characters in an eerily structured way that’s quick and friendly enough for a kids film. At an hour and a half Snyder has a lot of ground to cover and it does feel a little bit rushed, but he does moves quickly enough to never let the film get stagnant. Things are brisk, fun, and fast, which will serve children and their normally bored parents well. Snyder is also known for his depiction of violence. 300 had some, how should I put it, gruesomely violent scenes of blood and gore, and Watchmen took moments of violence and paired them with severe emotional consequences. I don’t know if the folks at Warner Bros. had seen those other films (which is odd considering they published them) but he may not have been the best choice in not scaring the bejeezus out of kids. Snyder talks a lot of talk in his script making his characters talk up the majesty of the guardians, but right after the 2/3 point when the guardians finally come in and many times before he fulfills his promise with a ton of incredibly well-made scenes of action. The owls are varied, the weapons the owls use are awe-some, and the mid-air battles can be entirely dizzying in the best way possible. While the pairing of Zac Snyder and animated owls fighting with serrated knives Is quite possibly the peanut butter and jelly for film buffs, it’s not necessarily “great” for kids. There’s nothing inappropriate per say for kids, there’s no gore or graphic violence, it’s just that there’s a time or two where Snyder lets it all go and puts together some amazing moments of action that might be a little too intense/scary for kids younger than 10/12. As always though, use your own judgment. I almost feel like a bad guy having to pick out things that this film doesn’t quite do to perfection. Maybe it was because I wasn’t watching it in 3D, but the first 20 minutes of the film were pretty slow, almost following children’s films clichés too closely. Speaking of children’s film clichés, Guardians isn’t going to win any awards for its script, which can feel a little too deliberate in a few of the film’s moments. Surprisingly to both me as a viewer and as a writer, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a film that kids will enjoy, but can be entirely enjoyed by film buffs. Fans of Snyder’s work need not be afraid of the idea of their favorite director doing a kid’s movie. Legend of the Guardians is a film that can be frighteningly deep for a kids film and delightfully funny the next. Guardians is a sharp mixture, tossing together dazzling 3D, talented voice actors, and some of the best action/story work by one of our generation’s finest directors, all coming together in one of the purest definitions of the phrase “thrill ride”.
3 1/2 out of 4 Stars