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By Film Team
Legends of the Guardians
Dir: Zack Snyder
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: two brothers are kidnapped by an evil force which wants to take over the world, one of them escapes and, with a band of unusual but heroic friends, seeks out the legendary army from his father’s stories to defeat the forces of darkness and liberate the world.
Oh, and they’re all owls.
Yes, Legend of the Guardians will probably always be thought of as “the owl movie” (slightly unfair – other animals occasionally appear). It is likely the only time you’ll hear Helen Mirren as an evil owl queen. On hearing the advertised concept – fantasy adventure with owls – you can’t help but expect the same cute animal story you’ve seen before, tailored for owls. But is that all this film has to offer? Funnily enough, no.
This is not some sweet kids’ tale, but an epic fantasy; more Lord of the Rings than Happy Feet. In some respects the plot feels familiar, and probably the genre-savvy will greatly enjoy ticking boxes: the armies of good and evil; the convenient mentor; the seemingly impossible journey, to name a few. Nevertheless, the story is surprisingly large in scope and incredibly dark in tone. The protagonist is kidnapped from his happy home very close to the beginning, and the plot rarely lets up after that. Certainly there are the light-hearted jokes and training montages trailers promised, but this is also a film in which the bad guys are (very lightly) veiled Nazi analogies (named “the Pure Ones”, with their own Hitler Youth), any ‘weaklings’ or resistors are brainwashed, and betrayal is common. A surprisingly dark and complex plot develops for something marketed as a generic kids’ film with owls.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. Like many fantasies, there is a large amount of unfamiliar names, distracting in longer speeches, and there’s also a strange overuse of the word “gizzard”. There are definite plot holes; earlier parts in particular feel rushed; and some key character developments feel abrupt and badly-explained. Judging by the sheer breadth and detail of ideas though, this seems more a fault of adaptation than anything else – the film is based on the first three books of Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series.
However, any problems are quickly forgotten once the visuals kick in, because one thing is certain: this film is gorgeously animated. It even occasionally goes into slow motion – sometimes annoying, but mostly rewarding – for you to appreciate the beauty and detail, from flights across mountain vistas to a full-scale battle of the owls. (It says a lot that the latter can be written with a completely straight face.) Any shot could be a poster moment.
So, suspend your disbelief for a moment– say, when, unexpectedly early, you stop caring that they’re owls– and you’re rewarded with an above-average animated fantasy, with plenty of twists and developments and some of the most stunning visuals you’ll see for a long time.
by Vicky Fryer