Any kids’ film that features owl zombies, Hitler Youth-esque adversaries and an opening fifteen minutes that evokes Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo deserves credit for being ballsy. So allow me to offer Zack Snyder’s (tongue-twistingly-titled) Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole that credit. But should kids’ films be this … oppressive? There’s nothing wrong with making a spooky kids film (a’la Coraline) or even films for kiddies that deal with adult themes (a’la Up and Toy Story 3). But LOTG: TOOGH is so very dark and depressing, without the essential added ingredient of being overly interesting or exciting. I imagine younger viewers would be fairly weirded out by this movie, provided they weren’t already bored by it.
Legend of the Guardians is based upon the first three books of Kathryn Lasky’s 15-book Guardians of Ga’Hoole saga. It tells the story of a an idealistic young owl named Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his cynical brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), who are kidnapped from their tree and brought to the lair of the Pure Ones – an evil Owl Reich intent on wiping out the rest of the owl population. Although Soren remains intent on calling upon the help of the mythical Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Kludd embraces the dark side and offers to help enslave his own family for the good of the Pure Ones’ cause. In case you haven’t noticed, this ain’t exactly the light-and-fluffy Madagascar – although perhaps we shouldn’t have expected such from the director of 300.
Snyder’s first foray into animation has been handled by the Australian team at Animal Logic, who also produced Happy Feet. The animation is lush and the characterisations are rich. It’s also nice to hear a mostly-Australian voice cast, including Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush and David Wenham (although, thanks to a number of unpronounceable/unmemorable character names such as Jutt, Gylfie, Allmoree and Elgantine, it’s difficult to remember who played what). Much like Happy Feet however, the tone of the film is wildly inconsistent. Happy Feet struggled (and eventually failed) to combine musical comedy with environmental point-making. Legend of the Guardians can’t quite figure out if it’s an animated metaphor for fascism intended for adults eyes only, or a Star Wars-esque hero’s journey for kiddies (complete with two comic sidekicks).
We should at least applaud Snyder for maintaining his visual style; there are enough slow-mo flourishes and wildly-epic fight sequences to remind audiences that this is indeed from a director who knows how to handle action. But the kinetic action scenes here are not as gripping as they were in Dawn of the Dead; the rousing speeches not as stirring as they were in 300; the political and pop-cultural allegories not as biting as they were in Watchmen. It’s as if he too feels bored by the material; as if Snyder wishes he could go all out, skip all the schmaltzy owl-on-owl cuddling and lesson-learning and make an animalistic, R-rated war film. But he can’t, so we as an audience are left with an unmemorable film that is too adult for kids, and too childish for adults.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole opens across Australia September 30, 2010.