‘Legend’ Is Narrative Disaster
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole -- Dir. Zack Snyder (Warner Bros. Pictures) -- 1.5 STARS
Director Zack Snyder’s “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is a rarity among modern animated films, in that it is actually made solely for the entertainment of a younger audience. Unfortunately, however, everyone under the age of four who wants to see this film will likely be accompanied by their parents, and those parents are in for a decidedly unpleasant experience.
The basic premise of the film, which is an adaptation of a series of children’s novels, is not particularly original: a young owl must escape his dire situation, find the heroes who can save the day, and, in so doing, become a hero himself by the time the credits roll. While a more mature audience may enjoy the breathtaking animated world the owls inhabit, there is little else to recommend.
“Guardians” begins with the young owl, Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), living a peaceful life in his hollow and dreaming about the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mythical tree across the sea. While Soren’s parents and sister support his active imagination, his mean-spirited older brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), finds his brother to be a nuisance and knocks him out of their tree and onto land, a dreaded place where no owls are supposed to go. Soren and Kludd quickly realize their situation is much more dire as a pair of strange owls kidnap them and deliver them to a sort of owl concentration camp run by the evil Pure Ones.
Oddly enough, it is during this kidnapping scene that “Guardians” introduces its first unsuccessful attempts at comic relief. For example, one of the younger owls pokes fun at the older owl’s attempts to make a scary face, but neither his jibes nor the older owl’s antics are particularly amusing. Furthermore, this sequence essentially serves as a reference to Nazi Germany, as the impure owls are forced to do slave labor in the camps. Only an adult will understand this allusion fully, and yet there is simply nothing for an adult to connect with, as both situations of humor and tension fall flat.
Another reason “Guardians” will fail to capture the imagination of more adult viewers is that the pacing is far too fast. Like many film adaptations before it, “Guardians” unsuccessfully attempts to capture the essence of three complete books in one relatively short movie. This truncation results in abrupt transitions and a dearth of scenes bearing any emotional weight. Also lacking for mature audiences is character development; Soren is a completely righteous hero who never doubts what the right thing to do is, while Kludd, whose eventual betrayal holds so much potential for character development, falls flat as well—from the film’s opening, one can predict his full trajectory, never fearing that he will remain on the side of the villains by the time the movie ends.
The animation, however, is stunning. One need only glimpse a frame of the film to deduce the extraordinary level of care that went into crafting both the characters and their world. Towards the end of the movie, for example, Soren flies into the eye of a storm, and the individual plumes of each of his feathers sway beautifully in slow motion as spirals of water dance across the screen. Snyder has certainly not discarded his penchant for visual splendor, even when making a bland children’s film.
Visuals alone do not suffice; a large budget can make any film interesting to look at, but both humor and pathos must be earned by a well-developed script. Though a child who has not yet learned to appreciate narrative complexity may be mildly entertained, “Guardians” is a thoroughly dull experience for all those who expect Pixar-level quality from an animated film.