Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Legend of the Guardians is a beautifully animated movie which - like all the best kids' films - appeals to both children and adults. Capitalizing on stellar voice talent and Zack Snyder's undaunted directing style, this movie turned out to be a formulaic family film with inspiring messages, fierce action, and mesmerizing visuals.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving

I'm not going to sit here and tell you this is the best animated film of the year (so far, I'd say that honor goes to How to Train Your Dragon*), so set your expectations low and you won't be disappointed. The CGI is truly spectacular throughout - not only in the soaring flight sequences and the stunning landscapes, but also in the little moments and conversations between characters. I saw the film in 3D and it actually did add to the viewing experience; if you're willing to pay for it, it's probably worthwhile, but if you don't feel like shelling out the extra cash, it won't change your experience that much.

Earlier today, it was announced that Zack Snyder is going to direct the newest Superman film for Warner Bros. It's clear both the studio and producer/godfather Christopher Nolan have a lot of confidence in Snyder, and I'd say Legend of the Guardians is a nice demo reel for how 3D can be used properly. If WB chooses to make the new Superman in 3D and they want to feature some flight chase sequences between The Man of Steel and Zod (the confirmed villain), we've got nothing to worry about as an audience because Snyder knows exactly how to handle it. The action in this film is consistent with his visual style (ie. - speed-ramping, slow-motion, etc.), and I'll say this about him: the dude knows what looks cool on screen, and has a talent for making it happen. Even with a concept of owls fighting in mid-air (which, granted, sounds vaguely stupid), he easily makes it both visually interesting and effectively brutal.

Legend of the Guardians isn't the most original story you'll stumble across, but it works: a prototypical hero's journey straight out of Joseph Campbell's playbook, complete with ridiculous side characters to help our protagonist and such intense sibling rivalry it hasn't been seen in animation since The Lion King. It's based on a series of books by Kathryn Lansky, who serves as an executive producer on the film. There are actually a good number of parallels to How to Train Your Dragon - from themes like family loyalty, the feeling of discovery, accepting yourself, and many of the visual cues - but HTTYD executed them all much better on screen.

I spent most of the movie trying to match the voices I was hearing to certain actors, but had to wait until the end credits to solidify my guesses. I was way off on a few of them (no Orlando Bloom...at all?), but there was some really excellent voice work by Jim Sturgess (21, Across the Universe) in the lead role, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) and Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean). The younger actors, especially, do a great job of imbuing their owls with a sense of innocence that match the owls' outward appearances.

There were a few particularly striking sequences, both involving the phrase "feel it in your gizzard" which is simply a stand-in for "use the Force." The "fly through the rain" scene had me cracking up more than it should have because it evoked Chris Klein's now-infamous "this guy walks through the raindrops" moment from Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li, found at the :40 second mark in this video. All kidding aside, that scene was very impressive, as was a similar sequence involving fire near the end of the movie.

Legend of the Guardians is not a bad movie - it's just not as good as some of its contemporaries. I have no problem recommending both HTTYD and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs over this film because I feel like they cover similar subject matter to higher degrees of success, but if you're in desperate need of a fun family theatrical film this fall, Legend of the Guardians is for you. Little girls might like the cuteness of the owls, little boys might like the battle scenes, and adults can appreciate the movie for its technical merits - but ultimately this one left me wanting more. Until next time...

*Note: I haven't seen Toy Story 3.

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