Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Ryan Kwanten, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, Hugo Weaving
Released on September 24, 2010
Running time: 1h 36m
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Action
Again, just like I Am Number Four and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, I went into Guardians completely blind. I have never read Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’hoole books (though at least one of my three brothers has read the first four), so I have no blinders to wear.
Question: why was the title extended so much? Did the filmmakers not get the rights to the title? Why not just call it Guardians of Ga’hoole? How intentional was it that your title is such a mouthful?
I actually had to do some research to figure out that the movie is set in Australia and Tasmania. The story begins as the opening titles showcase animation that can only be described as astounding. Seriously, this animation is amazing. It focuses on an owl father as he flies back to his nest where his mate, children, and snake nursemaid wait for him.
It’s gorgeous to see the rising sun shine through the clouds, to see this owl fly so gracefully through the air with each individual feather having been animated. It’s incredibly beautiful to see the sunlight gleam on and filter through each feather. Not only is the character animation absolutely stellar, but the backgrounds are incredibly detailed and practically photorealistic. I haven’t seen animation this good since movies like The Good Dinosaur (which is heavily underrated) and Kubo and the Two Strings (which is a little overrated). It’s a pity that the soundtrack is a little subpar, though in some parts of the movie, it had some nice chord progression.
The father rejoins his family. I forget the parents’ names, though I do remember that the mother is voiced by Essie Davis, who was the mother in The Babadook (go see it!), and the father is voiced by Hugo Weaving.
AGENT SMITH (The Matrix Revolutions): Cookies need love like everything does.
I’m serious, Hugo Weaving voicing this father is so odd. I half expected him to drop a “Mister Anderson”.
The owl couple has three owlets. The first two are named Soren (Sturgess) and Kludd (Kwanten). The third is Eglantine (oh, how you’ll shine! Your lot and my lot have got to combine! Bedknobs and Broomsticks reference!). I presume Eglantine is from a later clutch; that would explain her age difference with Soren and Kludd, though it doesn’t explain why Soren and Kludd have Australian accents and Eglantine has an American one. Though Sturgess and Kwanten do decent voice acting, they are far too old for their parts; they were both in their early-to-mid-thirties, and they’re trying to voice owls who would probably be tweens in human years. This is especially true of Sturgess, who’s clearly faking a voice that is a soft, smooth high tenor and the cliché hero voice. The owl family also has a snake nursemaid named Mrs. Plithiver, Mrs. P (Margoyles) for short. Through our first exposition dump, we learn that Soren is the common starry-eyed social everyman who dreams of doing more with his life and possibly becoming a hero, and that Kludd is a skeptical pessimist who harbors a deep-seated envy for his brother’s affability and natural skill. Gee, I wonder if he’s eventually going to turn evil. Such is shown when their father starts teaching them to glide down from branch to branch, with Kludd having difficulties and Soren picking it up rather easily. More exposition deals with what the guardians of the Ga’hoole tree are, and we even hear one of the legends: of the Battle of the Ice Claws, in which the great Lyze of Kiel defeated the leader of an army of evil owls, ripping off much of his face. This evil owl would go on to wear a large metal mask to hide his face, taking on the moniker of Metal Beak. The army he led was known as the Pure Ones, and they consisted only of Tyto owls (barn owls), who sought to bring all owldom under their rule, as they believed that they were the greatest of all owls. Obviously these will be the villains of this movie eventually, but do they have better motivation than just being really, really racist Nazi wannabes?
Soren and Kludd decide to fit in a little extra practice before they go to sleep that morning (because owls are nocturnal), because that totally won’t go wrong. Of course, they screw up and fall all the way to the ground. After an attack by what I can only presume is a Tasmanian devil (no, not the one from Looney Tunes), two owls snatch them and carry them away. These two owls are named Jutt and Jatt. Are they supposed to be twins or something? These two are annoying. Kludd almost gets away, but fails.
Eventually they encounter a large group of other owls, also with kidnapped owlets in tow. Soren meets an elf owl named Gylfie (Barclay), who is being carried by another owl named Grimble (Weaving. Why the dual role? Is Grimble eventually going to take pity on Soren and become almost a father figure to him?). As the characters talk to each other, I find myself noticing that though the natural Australian accents are tolerable, the faked ones are aggravating.
The horde eventually arrives at some foggy, mountainous, rocky area that I guess is supposed to be some sort of naturally formed fortress featuring a lot of stuff that apparently these owls actually built. I have no idea how these owls have been able to build all this. Some of the owls are even wearing metal helmets and metal claws. How have these owls learned how to make fire? How have these owls learned how to mine raw ore, refine it, and forge it into armor? The kidnapped owlets are herded into the center of some sort of room. Soren shields Gylfie (why? Because she’s tiny?) as Jutt, Jatt, and Grimble explain that the owlets are at some place called Saint Aegolius (uh-jee-lee-us) and that they will be split into two groups: soldiers and pickers. A soldier’s job is self-explanatory, but what do pickers do? We see a white Tyto owl fly in. She introduces herself as Nyra (Mirren), mate to the Lord High Tyto, who is the leader of the Pure Ones and obviously Metal Beak. With the way she poises herself and looks down her beak at every owl in the room, she immediately comes off as stuck-up, haughty, snooty, conceited, and arrogant. When Gylfie speaks out, Nyra hops down from her perch toward her. When Soren tries to shield Gylfie, Nyra addresses him as a fellow Tyto and tells him to step away from Gylfie, who she addresses as a “piece of felt”. So owls know how to make fabric? Soren refuses, and Nyra scornfully assigns him and Gylfie to be pickers, having Jutt and Jatt take them away. Soren asks what will become of Kludd. Nyra asks Kludd if he wants to join his brother, but he turns away. Oooookay, could Kludd’s disdain for Soren have been more developed? This betrayal was not earned, as thus far, the only conflict between Soren and Kludd has been Kludd’s pessimism, skepticism of the Ga’hoole legends, and jealousy of his brother’s natural skill. Come on.
Kludd, along with the rest of the kidnapped Tyto owlets apart from Soren, are brought with Nyra to be trained as soldiers, while the rest of the group are to be pickers. Soren continues to shield Gylfie (there needs to be another reason than “because she’s tiny”) as the mass of owlets are herded into another room. An owl with cataracts in both eyes passes by, and Gylfie says that this owl must have been “moon blinked”, which apparently happens when an owl goes to sleep under the full moon. An owl will essentially become a zombie. Not a Romero-type zombie, but rather something similar to a voodoo zombie; a silent, slow-moving, personality-less owl that obeys orders without question. The owlets are herded into a roofless room with the full moon in full view. Soren and Gylfie resolve to stay up all night. It’s amazing that they haven’t been overheard yet. You know, actors, when you’re recording your dialogue in the studio, you are speaking into a microphone. You are speaking into state-of-the-art sound equipment. You are not on a stage. You are in a movie. You can whisper. It’s not hard. Gylfie even mentions that she knows these stars, even though she’s still an owlet who can’t even fly; how does she know these stars?
The next morning, Soren and Gylfie notice that the rest of the owlets have been moon blinked. The owlets are herded out of the room, and Soren and Gylfie attempt to act like they’ve been moon blinked. But this is verbally communicated between them, and I’m amazed that none of the guards have noticed that they haven’t been moon blinked. Also, Gylfie thinks that acting moon blinked means walking stiffly with her wings outstretched. In fact, Grimble even notices this as well as Soren’s clearly-not-moon-blinked eyes, but he lets them by. He’s going to help them escape later, isn’t he? The owlets are lined up.
Pan upwards to Nyra indoctrinating Kludd and the other Tyto owlets with various Pure One beliefs. Yes, yes, yes, the Pure Ones are Nazis. We get it. Literally everyone has made their villains like the Nazis. Nyra has them see which one can flap the highest.
Back to the line of owlets. An owl pellet from a large basket of them is thrown at each owlet’s feet. At least here Jutt and Jatt get a few slightly funny lines, even revealing that owls somehow have a numerical system that is the same as ours. One pellet is opened, containing what Jutt and Jatt are looking for. Jatt holds it up and the two explain that it contains a metal fleck. Why would a mouse or any prey of owls eat bits of metal? Jutt gives it to Soren and tells him to take it to some container full of other metal flecks. But why is this container glowing with multiple arcs of blue magnetic energy? How have owls harnessed the power of magnetism? Gylfie looks on, and apparently she has a lazy eye, because the animators accidentally forgot to move her right eye at the same speed as her left. Oops. As Soren gets close to the container of metal flecks, the magnetism not only grabs the fleck, but the magnet ray thingymabobber seems to be grabbing at something in his chest? What? Did Soren eat a mouse with a metal fleck in its stomach earlier? A bat jumps out of nowhere and snatches the metal fleck and puts it in the container. Another bat flies in and carries the container away. Because bats are totally that strong, and are not affected by whatever in that magic magnet BS was affecting Soren. Soren staggers back to Gylfie, telling her that the Pure Ones are doing something terribly wrong. What exactly are the Pure Ones doing with the magic magnet BS? Soren says that they need to find Kludd and get out of there, but Grimble catches them talking. In the shot of Grimble’s face, I could not help but notice that Soren’s face was reflected in his eyes. Neat!
Shot of the small containers of metal flecks being taken to a larger container. A voice speaks, and the camera pulls back. The voice says that when they have amassed enough flecks, they will set a trap. Cut to the silhouettes of two owls, one of which is wearing an ornate helmet. This is Metal Beak (Edgerton). He’s made a deal with the other owl: in return for luring the Guardians of the Ga’hoole tree into this trap, the other owl will be given the western kingdom and the tree. To be perfectly honest, Joel Edgerton does a pretty cool evil voice. The last movie I reviewed that he was in was The Odd Life of Timothy Green, in which he played Timothy’s adopted dad. Though the movie was garbage, Edgerton was trying his hardest. Metal Beak is an entirely different character to play, and he does decently. If only he had better dialogue to work with. Though it would be nice if he didn’t sound like Mark Hamill as Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Though I can’t help but notice this: Metal Beak is not a Tyto. He’s a sooty owl. Hey, that’s like Hitler being brown-haired, blue-eyed, and Austrian rather than blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and native to Deutschland. Wow, another way the Pure Ones are like Nazis.
Also, as Grimble escorts Soren and Gylfie to another room, I can’t help but notice that the Tyto guards have red eyes. Why? After making them think he’s going to kill them, he instead tells them that he’s going to teach them to fly. How convenient that he’s friendly. He tells them that the Pure Ones shanghaied him into the fold under threat of familial slaughter. Also, apparently, Grimble’s room is a sort of library. Well, we see books stacked up or hanging from lines. So owls know how to chop down trees, grind up the wood, make paper, make ink, write in some sort of language, and bind these books together? Wow. Grimble teaches Soren and Gylfie to fly.
Nyra tells her students that only the best will be presented to Metal Beak. She tosses a captive bluebird into the group and implies that they are to catch it. After much effort and slow-mo, Kludd is victorious. Though I have no idea what Nyra’s getting at when she tells Kludd that he shows obedience and discipline. Kludd lets the bluebird go. Nyra asks if Soren has similar capabilities, but Kludd lies, saying that Soren sucks. Nyra takes Kludd to go find Soren.
After much practice, Soren and Gylfie seem to be getting a better grip on how to fly. Grimble tells them that they will have to fly across the sea of Hoolemere to get to the Ga’hoole tree. Soren, Gylfie and Grimble are going to get caught, aren’t they? Soren’s going to beg Kludd to come with them, but Kludd will refuse, won’t he? Grimble will distract the Pure Ones in a badly choreographed fight scene, making the animation lose its realism for a time, and somehow die (seriously, how exactly does he die?) so that Soren and Gylfie can get away, won’t he? Soren and Gylfie will learn to fly under duress, and somehow the guards’ attempt to catch them will be foiled via slow-mo, leaving them open to escape, right? Yes. Boy, Soren really seems broken up about Kludd’s betrayal, doesn’t he? By the way, Gylfie is injured, but the movie forgets about it in less than five seconds.
At least this transitions into a brief flying scene, in which the completely natural character animation looks fantastic against the photorealistic environments. I have no idea how animation is able to capture the sun’s rays through the sky so well. Seriously, this animation is effing amazing. Unfortunately,
SOREN: Does it [flying] feel the way you thought it would?
GYLFIE: No. It feels much better.
Back at Pure Ones HQ, Nyra praises Kludd for choosing to stay, and Kludd offers to bring them Eglantine.
Soren and Gylfie get some arbitrary distance away, and Soren pins down a moth. A twitchy burrowing owl named Digger (Wenham) comes out and claims that the moth was his. After some funny business that arises after Gylfie appears and the movie remembers and forgets Gylfie’s injury again over the course of about ten seconds, Digger takes the two to his hollow, sharing a few bad owl jokes. Digger’s friend Twilight (LaPaglia) shows up with Mrs. P in tow, intending for her to be his and Digger’s dinner. Wait, how did Twilight find her? How far away from Soren’s nest are they? But she is removed from the menu when Soren lets them know of her identity. After Soren tells Mrs. P of his and Kludd’s plights, Twilight reveals his personality trait: a “poet” of sorts. He even carries a handmade lute of his around. So an owl can carve wood, form strings out of some sort of material (definitely not metal), attach them to this piece of carved wood, identify a pitch, and tune the strings to various pitches. Okay. Twilight also needs voice lessons. I’d be happy to provide him with some. Twilight conveniently knows the way to the sea of Hoolemere, so the group sets off on their journey. Twilight carries his lute with him, with Mrs. P riding inside. She apparently loves the sensation of flying. Digger thinks Mrs. P might be the first snake to fly. Incorrect – the flying tree snake, native to Southeast Asia, can essentially “glide” from tree to tree. Watch various videos of it; it’s damn cool.
Nyra introduces Kludd to Metal Beak. Kludd now has Eglantine in tow. Wait – they kidnapped her offscreen? Come on!
You know, you’d think that the species of owl claiming dominance over the rest would be the great grey owls, right? They are the largest of the species, right?
Soren and the others continue their journey. They find themselves being followed by crows. The crows snatch the lute with Mrs. P. After some funny business, they get the lute back. They land, accompanied by a gorgeous tracking shot and are met by a blue-painted (paint? Really?) echidna who claims to have foretold their journey. Not just that, but he claims to have foretold every little detail. He tells them to follow a particular set of stars. He inspires them to continue. He gets a funny line. The group sets off across the sea…
…and soon find themselves lost in a snowstorm.
GYLFIE: I can’t find my bearings.
Give her a better line than that, please. Digger’s wings freeze and he falls toward the ocean. Soren can’t find him, but over the crest of the next wave flies one of the Guardians, carrying Digger. Wait, they found the Guardians already? That was quick! Another Guardian appears, beckoning the group to follow. The group flies to the Ga’hoole tree, and the shot of the sun shining through the tree literally gave me chills. Seriously, that is such a beautiful shot. The group lands, showing us that apparently these owls have somehow managed to master the art of woodwork and basic architecture, as they have built shelters, walkways, torches, poles and banners, baskets, and they’ve even learned how to make wax candles. The group is taken into the Guardians’ council room. The rulers seem to be a pair of snowy owls. Soren and Gylfie tell the Guardians of the actions of the Pure Ones. One of the Guardians named Allomere sounds exactly like that owl Metal Beak was meeting with earlier, and he doubts the group’s story. He’s a traitor, isn’t he? One other particularly disheveled Guardian named Ezylryb (Rush) (good luck pronouncing that), who believes the group, is a bit of a butt for mockery. Though the Guardians are somewhat skeptical, Soren somehow convinces them that though the only proof he has are his words, words were the only proof he’d ever had of the Guardians’ existence. The leader, Boron (like the element?) sends Allomere with several other owls to scout out Pure Ones HQ.
Hold it – if you take “ryb” off of “Ezylryb”, it becomes “Ezyl”; flip that and it becomes “Lyze”. Ezylryb is Lyze of Kiel? Ooooookay.
Outside, Soren and Gylfie watch Allomere’s group fly off. Ezylryb tells them that he’s impressed that they made it this far. A Guardian named Otulissa takes them on a sort of tour. Soren seems a little starstruck. Soren and Gylfie meet back up with Twilight and Digger for dinner, and the movie transitions into a crappy pop song. And guess who they got to perform this crappy pop song. Owl City, of course! Dammit. And what does this song accompany? A training montage, of course!
Owls will be trained in various skilled called “chaws”, such as tracking, navigation, combat, or even blacksmithing. Seriously, I’m absolutely dumbfounded that owls can apparently mine raw ore, refine it, forge it, and pound it into something, especially something that detailed. Jeez. As the training montage progresses, Digger gets pinched in the balls by a hermit crab, we see that owls can somehow make star charts and have their own constellations, know how to make floating lanterns out of leaves, and can harness the power of fire to heat the tree but also not burn the freaking thing down, and Twilight still needs to get over his pompous attitude.
As Metal Beak gives some sort of speech to his soldiers, Kludd is off to the side guarding Eglantine. Eglantine thus far has been refusing Pure One indoctrination, so Kludd, under the façade of taking her home tomorrow, steps to the side, revealing the light of the full moon. His intentions are obvious.
Soren is reading a book written by Lyze of Kiel about his experience in the Battle of the Ice Claws. How can you read? Though his father always told him, Kludd, and Eglantine that the battle was a great victory and that Lyze of Kiel was a great hero, the book makes it seem like the battle was hellish. Ezylryb talks to him briefly about this. The next morning, Ezylryb takes Soren, Twilight, Digger, and Otulissa out to fly in a heavy rainstorm. It’s nice to see the light reflect off the wet wings as the owls struggle to fly while Ezylryb makes it look easy, using odd vocabulary. But this leads to another of the most beautiful shots in the movie: a slo-mo shot of Soren flying through the rain as lightning lights up the sky behind him. The animators not only had to animate every drop of rain, but every drop of rain that hits Soren and how it splashes, and Soren’s every feather. It looks astounding. Though Soren does screw it up, Ezylryb saves him and has him come to his hollow.
Allomere and his squadron sneak into Pure Ones HQ. They see the owlets. A few bats fly into the shot, and the squadron follows. They see two Pure Ones in a clearing and another standing on a massive rock spike. Allomere deals with the higher one while his squadron deals with the two down below. The squadron discovers that the two guards are stuffed fakes, and the bats open the container of magical magnet BS.
Ezylryb praises Soren for his skill, and reveals that he, Ezylryb, is Lyze of Kiel. Soren is surprised, and Ezylryb/Lyze tells him that battle is the polar opposite of glorious or heroic, and that he emerged scarred and minus a talon. Allomere arrives back at Guardians HQ with two owlets in tow, one of which is a moon blinked Eglantine. He then elaborates on the situation to the rest of the Guardians. Boron addresses one of the Guardians as Bubo. REFERENCE! The Guardians armor up and head to fight the Pure Ones. Soren tells Ezylryb/Lyze that he has to go with them, but Ezylryb/Lyze tells Soren that he wouldn’t last a minute in a real fight, and tells him to stay behind with his sister. He flies out to join the Guardians, and Soren goes to his sister.
So we’re pretty much nearing the climax now? Good heavens, I felt so little buildup to it!
The Guardians stealthily attack, taking out the first of the guards rather quickly. Question: is the sun being eclipsed right now? Because we currently have a case of crescent sun.
Soren has a one-sided conversation with his comatose sister about the stories they’d heard as owlets. But then Eglantine is suddenly un-moon-blinked somehow (seriously, how?), and she reveals that Kludd made her moon blinked. Soren is surprised that Kludd would do this. Does he not remember that Kludd betrayed him twice earlier?
Cut back to the Pure Ones herding maybe a dozen or two owlets into a clearing. The Guardians approach. In voiceover, Eglantine reveals that she can somehow remember what happened while she was moon blinked: Kludd gave her to Allomere. But that would mean that Allomere would have to be a traitor, Soren says. I totally called it. Soren realizes that the Guardians are flying right into a trap. Well, of course, they do. While the Guardians are distracted while fighting a horde of armed bats, the magic magnet BS container is opened, rendering the Guardians down for the count while Allomere escapes unscathed. Allomere a traitor? If we knew him as a character, this might not have made the plot feel contrived.
Soren takes Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger to help him, and they fly to help the Guardians. They make it to Pure Ones HQ in no time at all, and see that the Guardians are trapped by the magic magnet BS. A ways off, Nyra tells Allomere but really tells the audience that the magic magnet BS affects an owl’s gizzard. Oooookay. Soren and his companions say some lines off to the side, but Soren looks to the side to see the mothereffing forest burning down. When the hell did that happen?! The group comes up with a plan: Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger will distract the horde of bats headed over to the Guardians to finish them off while Soren lights a conveniently placed oil lamp on fire in the burning forest and uses it to blow up the magic magnet BS. As Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger head into battle, Twilight breaks out into his own version of the Toreador march from Carmen. Groan.
Off to the side, Nyra is pissed that the bats have been distracted by Soren’s companions. Metal Beak then tells Allomere that he never had any intentions of rewarding Allomere for his betrayal. Some bats appear out of freaking nowhere and drag Allomere into a hole, killing him.
Soren flies into the forest fire, showing another good slow-mo shot, but it’s one too many. Sorry, Zack Snyder, but the gimmick has worn off. The lamp is lit, and Soren flies into the magic magnet BS somehow unaffected and tosses it onto the container, somehow stopping the magic magnet BS in a much larger explosion than should be possible. Metal Beak orders the Pure Ones to attack. The Guardians fly up to meet them, Ezylryb/Lyze ordering Soren to guard the owlets with his companions. Though Twilight is allowed to join the attack for some reason. Yes, yes, yes, dramatic shots of the armies rushing toward each other and some slow-mo shots of various impacts. Fighting, fighting, and more fighting. Soren sees Kludd and rushes to meet him. The two fight in a fight that I know should be having more of a dramatic impact, but the rivalry between the two was not developed nearly enough. The fight moves into the burning forest.
Ezylryb/Lyze takes on Metal Beak. Why, in various movies, do two characters locked in combat have to make mini-speeches as they slowly circle each other? Ezylryb/Lyze gains the upper hand and seemingly knocks Metal Beak out. Yeah, he gets up. Come on, he gets up and gets the upper hand. Stop making us wait and just do it. I told you. Metal Beak and Nyra double-team Ezylryb/Lyze.
Back in the forest, the fight between Soren and Kludd is pretty underwhelming, as the centerpiece of the fight is clearly their dialogue. Question: whenever this form of racism occurs in all sorts of various movies, can it at least be explained why anyone would side with these racists except those who are evil? Clearly the Pure Ones gave Kludd something to believe in, but we needed to see the conflict within Kludd as he slowly accepted their principles. The Pure Ones, according to Kludd, believe in him like no one ever has. Eventually the fight results in a broken wing for Kludd as Soren tries to keep himself and Kludd from falling into the fire. Kludd tries to use the “I’m your brother” cliché, and it actually works. But as Soren tries to pull Kludd up, Kludd grabs onto a branch and tries to pull Soren down. The branch breaks, and Kludd falls into the fire. He’s fine. He’ll be in the sequel they’re never going to make. Soren, seeing the fight between Ezylryb/Lyze, Metal Beak, and Nyra, and knowing what the latter two did to Kludd, goes to join them, breaking off a burning branch to use as a weapon. It’d be nice if Soren, Nyra, and Metal Beak had more conflict between them.
Ezylryb/Lyze is getting his ass handed to him by Metal Beak and Nyra, but Soren knocks Metal Beak away and fights him. Ezylryb/Lyze takes Nyra on. Metal Beak sends the burning branch falling to the ground. Soren rushes down to get it, and when he does, he turns around and impales Metal Beak on it. Seeing that Metal Beak is dead, Nyra and the Pure Ones retreat. Soren’s friends fly down to meet him, and Ezylryb/Lyze tells him that his killing of Metal Beak will be written.
RAMESES: So let it be written. So let it be done.
Soren, his companions, and the Guardians bring the captive owlets to the Ga’hoole tree, where Soren’s parents are waiting. Soren and his companions are welcomed back as heroes, and are named honorary Guardians. I had no idea owls knew how to make confetti. Soren, Eglantine, and their parents seem to be taking Kludd’s apparent death surprisingly well. Speaking of which, Kludd’s body was never found, and we see a shot of a red-eyed Kludd by Metal Beak’s mask. Cut back to Soren, who is telling the tale to a group of owlets. Soren, his companions, and Ezylryb/Lyze fly out around the Ga’hoole tree.
Fade to credits, where we hear the damn Owl City song again. Dammit.
The movie as a whole is such a missed opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, it does a good amount of things right. I’ve gushed about the animation a lot thus far, but seriously. This animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen, easily rivaling not just Blue Sky Studios, not just Dreamworks, but Disney and Pixar. It is breathtaking to see each individual detail. I really wish I could have seen this in 3D. The expressions on the owls themselves are surprisingly emotionally expressive. Hell, seeing the moon blinked owlets’ dead, white eyes and blank expressions, Nyra’s imposing and threatening demeanor, and Metal Beak’s dark, evil complexion can even be scary for younger children.
Though it’s nothing spectacular, the acting is pretty good, though Jim Sturgess as Soren sounded a little whiny at times. It’s a pity that the bigger name actors like Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, and Hugo Weaving weren’t utilized more.
To kids, the movie will probably be pretty damn amazing. It even has legitimately scary moments that parents may need to be present for, especially if the kids watching are younger than seven. It earns its PG rating by being surprisingly dark and even violent or scary at times, especially for a kids’ movie.
While more screentime for the villains was desperately needed, whenever Metal Beak, Nyra, or even a now-evil Kludd is onscreen, they do command a very real presence and can even be rather threatening. They probably will scare younger children. Had the villains been more developed and given more screentime, they could have been reminiscent of such Disney villains as Scar, Frollo, Ursula, Lady Tremaine, or even Maleficent. If your kids can handle the more intense scenes in any other kids’ movie, they can handle this one.
Zack Snyder undoubtedly has a visual style that is very much his own, but his style seems to be the type that seems to scream, “Notice me! Notice my directing!” His particular visual style, when he isn’t encumbered by oppressively dark superhero material and can embrace a visually bright color scheme, can create some stunning visuals. Though 300 was his orgasm of hyper-stylized violence and gore, Guardians shows that he can do animation, and some of the slow-mo happens at just the right moments. Snyder is very much a visual director. Should I want to make a visually bright movie in the future, I would want him possibly as my director of photography. When this dude gets his visuals right, he gets them right.
Another positive – had the story been given time to properly develop and move at a natural pace, it could have been told surprisingly well. It had a lot to say regarding themes such as courage, unity, loyalty, faith, sacrifice, betrayal, and that the right thing must be done no matter how much it hurts. It really tries to handle these themes with maturity and even dignity. Unfortunately, these themes cannot be properly explored in such an overstuffed plot trying to fit into such a short running time.
There is simply too much trying to happen in a ninety-six-minute movie, especially when so much of the movie deals with spewing out more exposition. We were still getting more at well over fifty minutes in. There is so much plot to sift through that we don’t have nearly enough time to settle down and develop the characters. We either have not enough or barely enough time to learn about each individual situation. We don’t spend enough time in Soren’s family’s nest, learning what makes Soren the social everyman and Kludd the jealous brother. We don’t spend enough time at Pure Ones HQ, learning about what makes them tick. We don’t spend enough time on the journey to the Ga’hoole tree. We don’t spend enough time at the tree itself. We don’t spend enough time on the buildup to the big climax. The climax itself is over too quickly. The movie as a whole resolves much too quickly. What made Kludd form such hatred of his brother and quickness to adopt Nazism? How did Soren and Gylfie become such close friends at Pure Ones HQ? What motivates Metal Beak, Nyra, and the Pure Ones to do what they do besides being really, really racist? What brought Twilight and Digger together? What caused Ezylryb / Lyze of Kiel to fall so far from grace after defeating Metal Beak at the Battle of the Ice Claws? The Pure Ones are collecting a bunch of little magnetic metal flecks from the stomachs of mice in owl pellets because when all the flecks are gathered together, they form a giant magnet that shoots out arcs of blue energy that somehow pin owls to the ground. Why? There is actually a reason why, but the movie never even vaguely explains it. Well, it does, but in a sentence or two. Blink and you’ll miss it. The film never pauses to allow you to settle down and collect your thoughts. You could possibly miss a plot point or two. Hey, on the plus side, the movie’s never boring. But the plot moves at such a fast clip when it really should have come in second place in the horse race in which Secretariat won the Triple Crown.
It doesn’t help that the already amazingly rushed and overstuffed story is spotty and unoriginal and contains no surprises. The typical contrived storytelling devices that you see in almost every movie ever are here in abundance. But that further serves to drive the plot farther down. If you write a story depicting the long and perilous journey of one or more main characters, then that story needs to be primarily focused on the journey itself and what happens during it. Lord of the Rings did that wonderfully. But Ga’hoole’s story seemed to not know this. It never settled into a set pattern. The characters made it to their destination and back, not even breaking a sweat, let alone getting hurt unless the script says so. Another issue: Kludd’s rivalry with and betrayal of Soren had no emotional or dramatic resonance, and served as more of a demand of a plot contrivance rather than a character and his story evolving.
The movie as a whole simply failed to create a large, vibrant, lush, beautiful, expansive world that I could step into in owl form (preferably great horned owl). That just makes me sad, because I very much wanted to like this movie. And I can see a good story in there, but it needs to break free from the oft-seen clichés that drag down every story that uses them, and allow itself to have a longer running time, preferably two and a half hours.
The main gimmick of this story is that the characters are owls and that they sometimes talk about and do owl-specific things. But these owls are pretty freaking smart for, you know, being owls. Though owls are definitely smart (I love owls, by the way), I had absolutely no idea that Tyto owls could form a society in the vein of the Third Reich, and the other owls as well as those Tyto owls who did not ascribe to Nazism could form an anti-Third Reich society. I had no idea owls were able to create large makeshift hideouts, especially a large tree fort. I had no idea owls could forge metal helmets and claws, form a writing and numerical system and make books, make fabric, make a blue magnetized nexus that can hurt other owls, and various other materials that I’m pretty sure owls are not smart enough to make. I also had no idea that these two owl societies were also smart enough to go to war and kill each other. Of course, I could make that complaint about every book focused on societies of animals, but that would mean I couldn’t like book series like Redwall and Mistmantle and Warriors.
Overall, Ga’hoole is just another basic, overdramatic, dull fantasy quasi-epic that has plenty of problems but has enough charm to warrant a viewing or two. It simply checks off too many of the typical tropes that we see in everything.
Even the animation has its downside. The character models, though amazing, are a tad dated and a little too wide-eyed. The action sequences, when in dim 3D, suffer from an inability to distinguish Guardian from Pure One. Though I laud the animation team for putting in the effort to create fifteen unique species of owl, the actions scenes render this work meaningless.
The dialogue is stilted, cliché, and not always well written. Whenever the characters had to use archaic or owl-specific dialogue, it could occasionally get really shaky.
It’s too dark and perhaps even too violent for little children, and too rushed, plot-heavy, and stale for older viewers. Anyone expecting to see something reminiscent of Pixar, let alone Don Bluth or Hiyao Miyazaki, will be sorely disappointed. It’s a purely visual experience. The game The Order: 1886 taught gamers that damn near perfect graphics aren’t everything. Ga’hoole is the film equivalent of that. Stellar animation isn’t everything.
Some of this movie’s detractors criticize it for its lack of faithfulness to its source material. But I don’t care. Not only am I reviewing the movie rather than the books, but the point of a film adaptation is so the adaptation can stand on its own. You shouldn’t have to have read the books to enjoy the movie. That’s what made the Harry Potter movies or the Lord of the Rings movies so successful. Though changes were made from the books, they made sense in the films’ universe.
Though I do not think Ga’hoole is a good movie, your children will probably love it. Even if the story doesn’t interest them, they still have a visual feast to behold. While this is definitely a worthwhile way to shut your kids up for ninety minutes, it still holds a lot of merit, it’s one of the better choices of movies to show your kids, and it’s still a satisfying watch. While this movie’s rating will be low, I still have to give it a little respect.
And best of all, I know I will definitely be showing this to my future children, should I ever actually have any.
Final verdict: 2 out of 5 stars.