Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010): Owl grand fantasy
Context: Action/Adventure Animated Fantasy
Overall Excellence: 9
Meh or Lame Parts: 0
I just finished watching this and I remember the trailers not being all that enticing. I didn’t even know it was Zach Snyder who directed this until years later when someone pointed this out. There must have been some major mishaps in that regard.
The resulting film is an infusion of a fantasy plot with Owls taking on most of the roles and feels almost like a not too distant relative to the best films of Don Bluth (Land Before Time, Secret of Nimh, An American Tale). There is a bit of whimsy, a bit of that wide eyed youth hearing great tales and then being introduced to the reality connected to those tales. There is a bit of darkness, from the villains.
The Look & Characters
The CGI animation is superb. The Owls look and feel great on screen. A stellar voice cast backs up the performance of the animation, never too showy, as often is the case in too many other animated films, which isn’t to say the characters lack personality. The characters are all very well defined, with a nice variety among them.
The plot follows a young owl (equivalent to a late teen human) who grew up hearing stories of great battles. In a competition vs his brother, they both get separated from the rest and are swept up by the Pure, a group of owls seeking to dominate and control all the various Owl species. Along the way, our hero picks up quirky friends and faces the legends of the stories he’s heard all of his life. The film moves along at a brisk pace, never dragging, but not at the expense of the characters.
In reading up on the film, some of the criticisms seem based on personal expectations that this film should be so much more than what it is, but I never felt like it lacked anything. Is the plot some great, original thing? No. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel tired, either, and does what it does rather well.
So many cgi animated films these days try so hard to be cutesy and gimmicky, that they often neglect character or plot or both in the process. Legends of the Guardians is just a good, solid story that isn’t trying to be anything more than it is. (and if you have read my other reviews, you know if there is something to pick apart in the film, something that doesn’t work, I most certainly will).
If the film has any flaws, I would say the title is prime among them. Whoever thought such a long, bloated title was a good thing? I get why they did it, since it was a book adaptation and that was the title of the book, but unless the book was insanely popular, the title is a bit of a mouthful. If the film has any other flaws, it is that it feels like an older animated movie and that is not what is being marketed to children these days. Even The Incredibles, which has some dark moments in it, is also at the same time full of cute, funny, brighter moments. We don’t really see more serious efforts marketed to younger audiences these days (correct me if I’m wrong) and I think that, combined with a poor marketing campaign, sunk this thing domestically. Interesting that while it only made 60 here in the US, it doubled that in foreign markets where more serious animated works are more accepted in the mainstream.
The Final Word
So if you are looking for what has become cliched in CGI animated films since Toy Story made its debut (which is not to knock Toy Story or the films that do this well), look elsewhere. But if you want to see something more serious with moments of wide eyed wonder, about a boy living on stories and then going off into the world to create his own, with the spirit of Don Bluth, check this one out.