Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

First of all, Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’hoole (here after referred to as LotG) is a tragically horrible name. I couldn’t even remember what it was called while I was watching it. As it is, I just checked the internet three times to be sure I spelled and got it right. I think whoever green-lighted that title, both for the books and for the movie, ought to be fired. Immediately. (And hire me in their place?)

Second of all? I liked it. Did I love it? No. There are severe problems with this movie, not the least of which that they tried to cram the first three editions of the children’s book series into one and a half hours. Did it work? Only if you like feeling ripped off.

But let’s start at the beginning.

LotG is about a young owelet named Soren who has grown up listening to the tales of a battle between the Guardians of Ga’hoole and a horrible owl named “Metalbeak.” When he and his brother, Kludd, begin branching they fall victim to the owls of St. Aggies. These two captors return with them to their mountain home, far away from the forest land where Soren and Kludd had so far lived. There, young owls are being kidnapped and brainwashed, becoming either zombie like creatures of habit and toil or fierce fighters for the “Pure One’s” army. Soren is banished to “picking” with a new friend, Gylfie, while Kludd is promoted to warrior. Luckily for our hero he and the girl-owl he befriended manage to escape, sent on a journey to find and alert the Guardians about this new threat.

Onto the good.

It’s a pretty straightforward fantasy story which, as a DnD geek, I can appreciate. Being that I am pretty much a fan of anything that gets kids into fantasy I was pretty happy with that much. It felt like Lord of the Rings meets The Lion King and The Secret of Nimh with a dose of 300 (sans the nudity of course) tossed in for good measure.

The graphics are amazing. I was happy enough to stare at adorable owls on screen for ninety minutes. They’re so cute I’m surprised I haven’t been inundated with a ton of squishable, stuffed propaganda from the film (that I would totally snatch up). Maybe it’s out there but hardly as prevalent as most children’s movies as far as I’m concerned and that is simply a crime! The 3D special effects really blended seamlessly, making the whole experience feel rather natural, feeding into the movie rather than trumping and encompassing it.

An all-star cast rounds out the film. With the voice talents of Ryan Kwanten, Jim Strugess, Hugo Weaving, Emily Barclay, Sam Neil, and Helen Mirren, the characters spring to life, taken from merely cute avians to possibly believable characters. And these heavy hitters are not alone, joined by an equally stellar voice crew.

My problems, however, just might outweigh these good points. Suppose it depends on who you are.

The first, most glaring, flaw was that the first act and the first “half” of the second act took up far too much of running time. In total we should have about one half of a movie but instead we’re treated to new characters, new concepts, and even a new world right up to the point that I would categorize at the climax. At least where the climax should be. The second “half” of the movie, something that should literally be one half of the film, is over and done with in about fifteen to twenty minutes. The first part may seem boring, as though it is preparing you for something, but the second will leave you feeling let down that all of the action came in one, giant squirt and nothing more.

I didn’t understand why this was while I was in the theater but further research has revealed that (as I said earlier) the first three books of a 15 book series went into this film. Having never read them I cannot truly give you an informed opinion but I honestly believe that when faced with the condensing process the writers could not manage to fit the stories and their beginnings and endings into a smooth single entity. Unfortunately it shows and it is likely what will ruin this otherwise rather likeable movie. Most movies that can’t follow a decent three act structure tend to fall short.

Additionally LotG is rated PG. I don’t know why. It has some intensely frightening moments and is remarkably violent for a story aimed at children between the ages of nine and twelve. Looking back on my experiences as a kid and thinking about what most of the parents in my life are willing and eager to let their children watch I don’t know that this would be easily accepted. The thing is, though, that I don’t believe that this is a moral issue. For a nine year old this could reasonably be too frightening to enjoy.

To sum this up and put an end to my tirade I would give LotG one star out of five if story alone were all that mattered. When other aspects are taken into account I might be willing to push it up to three. On a good day.