(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Spectacularly animated, this US-Australian coproduction has a lot to offer visually, but it goes decidedly off the tracks in telling its story of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil owls. It makes an attempt at mystical magic, but it never overcomes the obstacles that the film sets for itself. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE is an animated film with the main characters all being owls.

Well, to start off with, there are owls. Now I have nothing against owls. An owl is as good an animal as any. It deserves the right to its life. But it is just natural some animals inspire empathy in humans more than others. A nice mouse can get audience sympathy very easily. Humans can identify with a mouse. This is why so many animated characters are mice. Dogs and cats it is true even more so. And it is a lot easier to feel something for an owl than, say, a sea slug. But rare is the person who feels the urge to cuddle an owl. They just seem like they have aloof personalities. It is easier to identify with the mice in this film than the owls. And you see the mice for just a few seconds before fly-by owls snatch them up as a quick snack. When you next see the mice the have been eaten and the bones and fur have been regurgitated as mouse pellets. This is hardly the way to win over the audience to liking the owls. They make somewhat nauseating heroes for the film.

Then there is the problem that the viewer may have to struggle to tell one owl from another. One looks for signs that are very different from how you tell one human from another. A barn owl has a head that looks like a half-eaten apple. And they have different color trim around that big half-apple-like face. It is hard to pick up on that and really tell the owls apart. Owl faces are hard to remember. They do have some expression, but the main character, Soren, voiced by Jim Sturgess, has a face that looks like a repulsive caricature of Elijah Wood. That brings me to another obstacle the viewer has to overcome. The characters have names like Eglantine, Plithiver, and Otulissa. (One of the easier names is Bubo, which is probably homage to Ray Harryhausen.)

The plot of LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE is deceptively simple thinking back on it. I guess it is just about a young owlet kidnapped by an evil owl army. He escapes joins a good owl army and goes to battle against the bad owls. The film just seems more complex because it is overloaded with bizarre, half- explained devices to complicate that plot. We learn that owls can become mindless robots by staring at the moon. The evil owls are trying to collect pieces of metal from dead mice so that vampire bats can assemble a force field that shoots out arcs of blue rays. This is all sort of nightmarish in just what odd touches are thrown at the viewer.

Perhaps the film should not be so dense in weird ideas, but it is condensing from three books by Kathryn Lasky in her GUARDIANS OF GA'HOOLE series. Following what seems to be the formula for animated films these days, the CGI is exquisite (or at least what used to be considered exquisite a few years ago). The owls are terrifically rendered. The mathematics to render the furry down of the owls looks perfect. And the flying scenes over spectacular scenery are terrific, rivaling those in AVATAR and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. The vocal cast includes stars Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Sam Neil, Hugo Weaving, and Geoffrey Rush. The score by David Hirschfelder is lush, though not highly original.

This is not a children's film unless parents want to cater to children's natural love of whatever disgusts their parents. If this film intends to be taken as family fare, it is so only by contrast to director Zack Snyder's previous films, DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), 300, and WATCHMEN. This is definitely not cute animal fare. I rate LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1219342/

What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/legend_of_the_guardians/

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper