Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: (The voices of) Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill
Look past the cumbersome title, and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is one of the better computer-animated movies to hit the market in recent times. Not quite in the same league as Toy Story 3 and How to Train your Dragon, it is nonetheless an impressive feature, especially when you consider it is the first animated film to be directed by Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen fame. Based on the long-running series of best-selling books Guardians of Ga'Hoole, by the author Kathryn Lasky, the movie condenses the first three volumes (there are 16 and counting) into a manageable 90 minutes.
Featuring the vocal talents of Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush and Hugo Weaving, the story follows the young barn owl Soren (Jim Sturgess), who lives with his parents, young, cherubic sister Eglantine (Adrienne deFaria), wiry old nursemaid Mrs Plithiver, and jealous older brother, Kudd (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten), in the Kingdom of Ga'Hoole. Happy spending his nights re-enacting the legends his father, Noctus (Weaving) tells him about the legion of owls, the guardians, whose role it is to protect the kingdom, Soren soon finds his dreams becoming reality after being kidnapped, alongside Kudd, by an evil sect of owls who call themselves the "Pure Ones". Soren discovers the Pure Ones, led by the menacing Sooty Owl, Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton), and his even more sinister mate, Nyra (Helen Mirren), have a horrifying plan to take over the kingdom by any means necessary.
Watching an animated film, one is heavily reminded how important vocal performance is; everyone from deFaria, whose too-cute voice will melt any heart, to Sturgess, who captures the spirit of Soren perfectly, breathes life into what are, essentially, a bunch of computer graphics. There is, of course, nothing ordinary about the computer animation in Legend, the beauty of every individual feather on every owl breathtaking in its complexity. From the realistic ruffling of the owls' feathers when they are in flight, all the way to the animators' knack for giving the nocturnal creatures a humanistic touch without turning them into caricatures, the countless hours that went into making the movie are highly evident. The slow-motion sequences are equally incredible, and show that when CGI is good, it's as good as anything on a movie screen.
Despite being based on children's books, Legend has dark themes, made more so thanks to Snyder's direction, and is probably not suitable for very young children: both the scary owls (think the bad rabbits from Watership Down, only with the ability to rotate their heads 360 degrees, and with bladed claws) and heavy plot could be too much for some. The film met with mixed success - although it did far better overseas than in the US and eventually made a decent profit - and there are suggestions that Warner Bros has set its sights on returning to the project. Should there be a sequel - and it seems likely - and should Snyder and co jump back on board, perhaps it will get the credit this one was denied.