We’ve now reached the fourth film in my series of Zack Snyder reviews, When I reviewed “Dawn of the Dead” I mused about how I thought most people tend to overlook that film when discussing Snyder’s filmography. Well now we’ve reached his next film and I think (next to “Dawn of the Dead”) is his overlooked film, “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” His first ever animated effort this was Snyder’s follow up project after the divisive “Watchmen”. Perhaps it was because of the poor box office receipts of the film (and never got the intended sequel) “Guardians” is often forgotten. When this movie came out I wasn’t sure quite what to think of it. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it but I have to say I actually do enjoy the movie. Far from the heights of “Watchmen” and not without its share of faults “Guardians” is an animated film that I do believe deserves some more attention. It’s beautiful to look at, action packed and has a decent story to tell (even if that story isn’t as fleshed out as it could be).
Based off of the now 15 long young adult book series, “Legends of the Guardians” is probably the right sort of project for Snyder to follow up his efforts with. After big comic book epics like “300” and “Watchmen” it was a smart thing for him to scale things down a bit and focus on something not as massive. Not to say the book series doesn’t have a following because after 15 books it clearly does. I’m not sure how faithful the movie is the novels (I have been told it isn’t very faithful). My understanding is the movie follows (however loosely) the first three books, “The Capture”, “The Journey” and “The Rescue”.
The movie follows an Owl named Soren. Soren is a young Owl that tells the tales of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole. The Guardians are a group of noble Owl warriors that protect the Owl kingdom. After falling from their nest, Soren and his brother are captured by a group of seemingly savage and dangerous groups of Owls that only want the purest of their breed to survive. Soren knows the only people (meaning Owls) that can help are the Guardians; if the legends of them are true.
The movie borrows heavily from other fantasy type stories and archetypes. The pure breed Owls feel reminiscent of the Death Eaters from “Harry Potter” but perhaps it’s more drawing inspiration from the real world Nazis than from other fantasy. As an adventure tale it’s a good story. The young naive hero answers the call to adventure and then has a wise old master train him. There is a bit of been there done that feeling to this movie. That doesn’t mean it’s executes its clichés well because it really does. Soren is a likeable hero that grows throughout the story and there is a solid conflict with his brother that becomes present in the movie. The adventure to get to the Guardians feels like an age old fable. It’s fast past, it’s exciting and never gets boring. You’re always wrapped up in the next part of the adventure.
However there are some issues with the film’s storytelling. “Guardians” clocks in at 1 hour and 36 minutes and that is too short for the story the movie it is trying to tell. While I think the majority of the film is well done (more specifically the 2nd half) but there are many pieces of lore that are introduced that aren’t really fleshed out well enough; like the different groups of owls, back story and the bad guy’s eventual grand plan can get a little muddled. I actually got a little confused at some points . And there were a few characters I wanted fleshed out more or to establish themselves better. I would have like to have seen more conflict between Soren and his brother as well. It’s well done for what it is but like many other parts of the movie it could have been even better.
This is a darker animated tale. I remember some of the jokes going around the internet before this movie was released, “what is this going to be a blood bath like 300? But with owls?” (I didn’t say the jokes were funny). To be quite honest those jokes aren’t far from the truth. No this movie doesn’t have blood soaked heads being cut off but this is certainly one of the more violent and darker animated tales coming from North America. There is a big battle sequence in the final third act that is very exciting and engaging. I couldn’t believe how wrapped up in it I was. This movie is aimed more at older audiences.
The animation is done from a group called “Animal Logic”. This is the same animation company that made George Miller’s “Happy Feet” (a movie I really like) and later would produce the animation for “The Lego Movie” (an animated film I really love). Behind Zack Snyder visual direction this is perhaps among the most beautiful and stunning 3D animated films ever produced. The attention to detail is mind blowing. Even six years after its release it’s still a great looking film.
This movie was clearly made with the intentions of sequels but it’s more than likely never going to get one. It’s a shame because I think this movie did lay the ground work for a good series. The weaknesses of the movie could have been fixed with future installments. On its own its a perfectly enjoyable animated film. Could it have been better? Yeah, it could have. But, with its likeable characters, gorgeous animation and thrilling battles this is still a good movie and one that’s worth checking out.