Movie Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
The Charlotte Observer
"Young adult literature!" rises the cry from agents and publishers. The market is inexhaustible, you can recycle themes endlessly, the writing needn't be especially adroit - in short, anyone can do it badly and may still sell well.
I have no idea if that's true of Kathryn Lasky's "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" novels, which I have not read. But it's the case with the reportedly faithful film directed by Zack Snyder, which jumbles together themes from more memorable books and movies in an unmemorable, frenzied, characterless hodgepodge that delights the eyes while numbing the brain.
Snyder pulled off this kind of sensory assault in "300," partly because that film's absurd premise prevented him or us from taking it too seriously. But the humorless pomposity of "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" prevents anyone who wants complexity or continuity from taking it at all.
Anthropomorphized warrior animals have become a common theme these days: We have recently had series of books about cats and bears, and sword-wielding skunks will probably follow the owls.
Before events unfurl in the script by John Orloff and Emil Stern, a war has ended with the benevolent guardians flying off to distant Ga'Hoole and conquered Metal Beak rallying his forces for revenge. (Really, what choice did he have with a name like that? Call him "Hank," and he'd probably be well-adjusted.)
Metal Beak and Queen Nyra kidnap little owls, who are turned into zombie soldiers. They are assigned to pick over "pellets" - vomited chunks of mouse fur and bones - to collect bits of metal Mr. Beak is assembling into some kind of apparatus that electrifies his foes and allows them to be devoured by vampire bats.
But plucky Soren, whose brother joins Nyra's crew, escapes the zombie treatment and warns the Ga'Hooligans. He's assisted by - wait for it - a plucky young girl owl, a wacky and fast-talking sidekick, and a muscular owl who does the heavy lifting.
Let's see: A white queen separates brothers, luring the weak-willed one into serving her: That'd be "Chronicles of Narnia." A young guy learns battle skills from a mentor who sacrifices his own life, then saves the universe: That'd be "Star Wars."
And on and on it goes, with Geoffrey Rush or Sam Neill popping up as owls with Tolkien-esque names such as Ezylryb or Allomere. Only Helen Mirren's Nyra and Jim Sturgess' Soren make any lasting impression. (The latter is the one philosophic owl, a Soren Kierkeguardian.)
The animation is lovely, though grimly so in the endless sequences of attack, destruction by fire or electrocution. When Snyder doesn't know what to do, he falls back on his trick of shooting action at normal speed, slowing it down to make it more graphic, then speeding it back up.
Of course, a sequel is implied, which is the point of all tales such as these nowadays. It's suggested that a character who was presumably fatally burned will arise, Freddy Krueger-like, for us to ponder in the second installment.
I'd sooner eat a pellet.