“From the studio that brought you Happy Feet”, as said on the trailer of Legend of the Guardians, but what it doesn’t say is: “From the director of Watchmen and 300”. That’s right, the guy who loves using slow-motion shots and CGI blood in action sequences to indicate that he is a visionary like Ridley Scott, which indeed he is not.
Based on the first three volumes of the series Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky, Snyder’s latest takes a completely different approach to his previous, adult oriented, work as this is a sprawling fantasy epic featuring anthropomorphic owls, aimed directly at all ages. In a world of owls, the young Soren ( Jim Sturgess) is abducted by an evil owl army, from which he must escape with newfound friends and seek out the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole to stop the menace.
As I’ve said before it is based on Kathryn Lasky’s novels (which I haven’t read) and it has been said that the dark content from the source material has been toned down for this adaptation in order to prevent any unsettling reactions from the youngsters. The film does have its dark moments, such as owlets becoming abused slaves and bats preparing to eat them alive; and yet the so-called bleakness reminds you that this isn’t Watership Down, which was both charming and scary.
As you might have thought upon reading my synopsis, the film is somewhat unoriginal as the protagonist wants to seek the truth about the existence of the Guardians who are the heroes of myths and stories, whilst Darth Vader in the form of an owl leads an evil army to simply conquer the world. The screenwriters (called by this critic the two Johns) seem to have watched Star Wars whilst adapting the first volumes of this series, so if this becomes an ongoing franchise, let’s hope they make something in the same vein as Empire Strikes Back.
Having collaborated with Snyder before on the visual landscapes of 300, the animation studio Animal Logic is the hero of the piece along with its director. Although they won an Oscar for a film featuring fluffy penguins that dance and sing, the artists within Animal Logic have done a spectacular job at creating a world that is both one of art-direction and nature.
Being Snyder’s first film in animation and 3D, Legend of the Guardians retains the director’s slow-motion trademark as there are breath-taking moments of feathers being blown by the wind whilst owls flying through strong weather conditions. Although Snyder expressed a violent side to his direction in the past, what he brings here is quite charming to appeal a family audience despite not being the world’s greatest storyteller.
Although the owls are beautifully rendered as they look gorgeous when fly through the sky, none of the characters would have worked if not for the, Aussie packed, talented voice cast. It might take some adjustment at first upon hearing these owls with strong Australian accents but once you do, you’ll be impress with the vocal talents of Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill as well as Brits like Jim Sturgess and Dame Helen Mirren.
Although taking its cue from Star Wars despite its source material, Snyder does a decent job at making a CGI family film that is part-Lord of the Rings and part-Watership Down… with owls going hoot!
DIRECTOR: ZACK SNYDER
SCREENWRITERS: JOHN COLLEE, JOHN ORLOFF
STARRING: JIM STURGESS, GEOFFREY RUSH, EMILY BARCLAY, HELEN MIRREN, HUGO WEAVING
RUNTIME: 97 MIN