Four Torches (Out of Five)
I’ll admit it: when I first saw the advance photos of the owls in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole that showed the owls in their little helmets, carrying little owl-weapons, I thought they looked ridiculous.
Warrior owls? C’mon.
The thing is, this movie works so well that by the time you finally do see the owls going to battle with their little helmets and weapons, it doesn’t look ridiculous at all. It’s all been perfectly set up (and it’s very impressively animated), so in its context, you totally buy it.
In this world of owls, a young owl named Soren lives a happy life with his surly brother Kludd, telling stories of the legendary “guardian” Owls of Ga’Hoole who supposedly live in a massive tree far across the sea. But then Soren and Kludd are kidnapped by a group of evil owls who seem to be brain-washing young owls to create an army for some kind of “master race.” Soren must somehow escape and warn the Owls of Ga’Hoole — if they even exist. Problem is, Soren can barely fly himself.
The movie is based on the first three entries in a 15-book series by Kathryn Lasky. And some eyebrows were raised in Hollywood when wunderkind director Zack Synder (300, Watchmen) announced this as his next directing project.
But like the best animated movies of late, this is far more than merely a movie for kids. For one thing, with or without 3D, it’s truly visually stunning — not surprising, given Synder’s involvement.
It’s also very dark and at least somewhat sophisticated (but not as dark or sophisticated as Toy Story 3).
Okay, maybe it doesn’t say anything particularly fresh about the nature of courage and what it means to be “strong,” but at least it has something to say, including some refreshingly old-fashioned themes about heroism and self-sacrifice.
The movie is old-fashioned in another way: it isn’t chock-full of those annoying pop culture references and in-jokes that have become way too frequent in so many animated movies. It takes its story and its characters seriously — which is ultimately why I totally bought those little owl helmets and weapons when they finally showed up in the third act.
I suspect you’ll buy them too.