Although I had seen posters and ads for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010, PG) for a couple of years, I admit I had no interest in seeing it. A movie about hero-owls? I thought it was going to be a poorly scripted grade-B rip off of a Pixar flick, kind of like Happy Feet or Open Season. I finally picked it up from my local library kind of on a whim to see if it would be something my kids would watch. I was shocked; this film was easily one of the most underrated modern animated movies of the past several years.
Instead of a lame comedy like Open Season, what I got was a very epic but beautiful adventure story, akin to Kung Fu Panda but without all the slapstick. Like Kung Fu Panda, the plot of Legend of the Guardians features a young protagonist (Soren) who is enamored with tales of the legendary owl-warriors, the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. As Po in Kung Fu Panda, Soren will go on an adventure that will lead him to the Guardians, eventually joining the ranks of his heroes in a battle against evil. But unlike Kung Fu Panda, there is no overtly comic element; the movie is meant to be taken seriously from beginning to end and can be described as pure adventure. The main character of Soren is determined but possesses a gentle spirit. He demonstrates compassion and forgiveness throughout the film, as well as exemplary fortitude - and without any crass jokes about bodily functions or over-eating.
The plot of the film has to do with the efforts of Soren to find the legendary Guardians of Ga'Hoole in an attempt to warn them about the plot of an evil sect of owls, the "Pure Ones", who are stealing and brainwashing young owls to create an evil army to overrun the owl kingdoms. Soren and his brother are themselves kidnapped by the Pure Ones before Soren manages to escape and reach the Guardians. An epic battle between good and evil ensues, with a few personal vendettas thrown in for good measure. In the end, Soren and the Guardians triumph, though not without considerable sacrifice.
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this film; the pacing was just right, and the action as well as the morals spotless. The owls and the cinematography were phenomenally well done; it is amazing how well-done the owls were. The scenery was absolutely beautiful; James Cameron's Avatar was praised to the skies for its scenery, but I actually think Legend of the Guardians outdid him - the film did in fact win the AACTA Award for Best Visual Effects.
I do have to warn you, the movie is intense; not in a fast-paced, doesn't let you catch your breath sort of way, but in that the bad-guys are really bad-guys; the evil is very evil. The danger with this movie is that you might be deceived by the happy looking cover featuring a bunch of cute, smiling owls into thinking this is a "kids" movie; I personally would not recommend it for children under age 10. It was quite frightening at times - the villain Metalbeak is very ugly, cruel and disturbing, and there are several scenes of the Pure Ones brainwashing young owls (basically turning them into zombies) that would probably be alarming to younger viewers. The battles are pretty intense, too; the owls, good and bad alike, done steel hooks and blades on their feet and metal helmets before clashing into flesh-ripping, feather-shredding mid-air battles. Definitely a bit intense for younger viewers.
There are many admirable Catholic themes in the film. As I mentioned, the main character, Soren, is an exemplar of virtue. He is strong, but not in a sense that promotes physical ability above all else; he is also thoughtful and compassionate, and though he is fun-loving, he is never sarcastic or jocund just for the sake of humor.
The main message of the film is that good ideals are worth striving for, even if they seem out of reach - even if, in practicality, it does not seem possible to attain them. By striving, especially sacrificially, for good ideals, we ourselves become transformed into those very ideals we are striving for; we take our own place in the tradition of virtue by making our own contributions to the good in the fight against evil. Even if evil is momentarily triumphant, the good and the beautiful do exist, though their reality is sometimes shrouded in mist - i.e., the "mists" that surround the legendary tree of Ga'Hoole, hiding it from everyone except the pure in heart. But the power of the good and beautiful to transform and empower those who seek good is greater than the power of the wicked to work evil.
For its excellent animation, great casting, beautiful animation, well-developed script, great pacing and wonderful Catholic themes, and the enjoyment my wife and I got from it (we watched it alone, without our kids, and it still stands up as an adult film in its own right) I give this film three out of three tiaras:
Review by Boniface.
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