“Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is a heroic kids film which is set a little apart from the crowd in its genre by its subject matter (owls!) and execution (breathtaking CGI). It’s packed with familiar tropes and cliches, but when the intended audience is youngsters, that becomes less important. It stays far enough away from the lowbrow silliness some kids flicks are packed with that adults may well enjoy it too.
The hero of the story is Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), a young barn owl who, along with his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), is owlnapped by a villainous group working to build an army and conquer the world of owls. The Pure Ones, as they call themselves, brainwash their victims; barn owls and other “pure” breeds are made soldiers while the rest have their wills sapped in a mystical process called moonblinking and are turned into mindless workers. Soren and Kludd are separated, with Kludd sent to become a soldier and Soren assigned to be a worker.
Soren befriends a small elf owl named Gylfie (Emily Barclay) and the two manage to resist the moonblinking and escape. They set off to find the legendary Guardians — an army of heroic owls who live on a mystical island called Ga’Hoole and are the only ones who might be able to stop the evil Pure Ones.
The fight scenes are well-handled, with some very creative choreography and weapons. The owls wear helms and there are several different weapons they use, from clubs held in their claws to sharp metal talons attached to gloves worn over their feet. The army of bats employed by the Pure Ones even have metal blades attached to their wings. The speed at which the various combatants move sometimes makes it hard to tell them apart, but the sequences are still thrilling.
The pacing of the film is a little odd, but it’s easy to get so caught up in the beautiful artwork that the multiple arcs (likely an artifact of the film being a loose adaptation of the first three books in the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series) aren’t a problem. Computer graphics have come a long way over the last few years, and “Legend of the Guardians” is at the top of the form’s current state. The owls are gorgeous, rendered down to their last wispy feather, and the landscapes and scenery are stunning.
The film is in 3D (though it’s available in 2D as well), and because it was created in a computer and intended from the beginning to be 3D, the extra dimension is handled well — if you like that sort of thing. There are scenes which were obviously set up to show off the technology, and if you don’t particularly care for 3D they will likely be annoying. You can only watch owls flying in slow motion in the rain for so long before it starts to look like showboating.
Annoyances aside, the film is gorgeous. It doesn’t bring much new to the genre of epic fantasy adventure other than the excellent artwork, but then, it doesn’t need to. You don’t go see a story about a heroic young owl to be surprised. This is a solid film for kids, and one parents may well enjoy too.