Legend of the Guardians (2010) movie poster

(2010) director Zack Snyder
viewed: 11/07/10 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

When I first saw a trailer for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, I recall thinking the whole thing seemed extremely convoluted in its pseudo-uniqueness.  Owls wearing battle helmets?  With Australian accents?  Shot in 3-D and digitally animated in hyper-realistic detail, the film also seemed to feature an action-edged stylization that seemed less apt for a children’s film and more typical of a major action film.

Though I did know that it came from the studio that had made Happy Feet, little did I know that it was directed by Zack Snyder, director and stylist of 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009).  For the Australian bird-oriented animation, the former made sense, and when you think of all the slo-mo battle sequences, the Snyder angle made sense, though what attracted the R-rated Comic Con dude to the material?  Who knows?

Adapted from an Australian series of children’s fantasy novels, the film is also a pastiche of a multitude of other influences: Star Wars, vaguely Watership Down, and a lot of other things that came to mind while watching it but failing to return now as I write.

It’s a violent and action-packed thing, though rated PG, the violence is bloodless.  But the armored owls are like birds at a cockfight, with sharpened spurs on their talons.  There is a strong Nazi-oriented theme to the villains, who call themselves “the pure ones”, and are elitist based on the “type” of owl that they are.  These themes, while ominous, aren’t really given that much depth in the end.

The film is slick, as is often the case with Snyder, who knows his way around digital effects for films that have photographic characters in them, so in a film with digitally animated owls, the effects turn out to be some of his go-to set of techniques.  Namely, as the fast-paced action unfold, the camera locks suddenly into ultra slow-motion, in which every raindrop, every tiny feather, is vividly rendered, heightening drama, but also heightening one’s sense of the details of the animation.

The story is about two young owl brothers who are abducted by an evil group of owls, forced into their brutal, controlling structure.  While one brother escapes and battles the system, the other brother joins up.  The rebel seeks the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a group of noble owls who have fought for good versus evil in the past and are said to live at some place near the ends of the earth.

The film was preceded by a new 3-D animated Road Runner cartoon, which was painful just to look at, much less watch.  It just looked so “wrong”, especially considering Chuck Jones’ very 2-D Road Runner cartoons of the 1950’s, an aesthetic of simplicity in massive contrast to the 3-D computer animation in this new feature.  While Felix liked the Legend of the Guardians more than he thought he would (and I thought it was decent, too), after the Road Runner cartoon ended, he just looked at me and shook his head.