Sorely lacking from today’s children’s fare is something that seemed to be in full swing throughout the ‘80s – a sense of danger. While some classics could be deemed too frightening for younger audiences now, does that say more about those particular films or does it say that children are far more heavily guarded these days? Leave it to Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen) to give a try while succumbing to both studio expectations and his own pretensions with the long windedly-titled Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.
From An American Tail to The Land Before Time, along with The Goonies to Gremlins and even Disney’s own The Black Cauldron to The Secret of NIMH there was a sense of true danger which in turn enhanced whichever adventure was playing at the local multiplex that weekend. Nowadays families are stuck with things such as, most recently, Marmaduke, Furry Vengeance or Alpha and Omega to the true drecks of cinema – the Garfields, Scooby Doos, and Chipmunks franchises. There’s never been a greater time to thank Hollywood for Pixar and DreamWorks for giving families movies to really cheer about while Warner Bros. apparently has a lot of catching up to do in the story department.
While Snyder may not seem like the type to make a fore into family entertainment, for a good hour at least he really seemed to be onto something. Let alone that he’s working with a premise that needs to have talking hooters seem anthropomorphic, along with screenwriters John Orloff and Emil Stern (trying to launch a new series out of Kathryn Lasky’s novels) gave it their best shot. Unfortunately, the final half hour becomes so clichéd and formulaic, let alone cheesy and over the top that eventually there’s almost no salvaging what’s happened beforehand.
To keep things simple, which the movie seemed to have going for it, is a story about three siblings – Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), Eglantine (voiced by Adrienne DeFaria) and Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) – raised on tall tales about the ancient “Owls of Ga’Hoole” who keep order and stage battles against the evil Metal Beak (voiced by Joel Edgerton). Soren and Kludd are eventually snatched mid-branching by menacing members of The Pure Ones lead by the possibly sinister Nyra (voiced by Helen Mirren), right-hand owl to their true leader Metal Beak.
Soren discovers that it’s all an evil plot to “moonblink” them all into mindless zombie slaves to sort through pellets searching for metal flecks which are used for something that is never explained and yet when shown later in the film still makes absolutely no sense. It is said that it is some kind of weapon the Pure Ones are going to use to take away control from the Guardians.
Soren and his new friend Gylfie (voiced by Emily Barclay) are taken in by old grumbling Grimble (voiced by Hugo Weaving) who teaches them to fly and eventually escape from The Pure Ones to seek out the Guardians. Now it’s up to Soren to convince the Guardians of this sinister plot and take down Metal Beak along with his army of evil owls now including newest member/traitor Kludd who’s brought their young sister Eglantine as an offering to The Pure Ones to show his commitment.
Throughout the first hour there is a great sense of awe with that dash of danger thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, at almost exactly the one hour mark, Snyder and his writers throw in the most inexplicable use of a pop song in recent memory. While it was great to watch the owls fly around in an exhilarating use of 3-D, a training montage set to “To the Sky” by Owl City shows how lazy things are about to become. Yes, feathers fly and beaks collide all set to a bombastic score by David Hirschfelder but what was before slightly innocent becomes downright mean-spirited and far too violent for its inexplicable PG rating. Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s any less violent than Snyder’s own 300. These birds die great deaths and I do not mean valiantly.
Legends of the Guardians proves yet again just how hypocritical the MPAA can be as this film is every bit as violent, if not more so at times, than the two films (1984’s double whammy of Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) that singlehandedly caused the PG-13 rating to begin with. The gauntlet of violence here runs from implied beheadings to outright impalements. If your children have read the books, hopefully they’ll know what they’re getting into here, but if not, don’t let the rating fool you into thinking this is a clean cut case of family fare but then again, the movie isn’t worth the money spent to begin with.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures