Zack Snyder, director of such non-kid films as “300,” “Watchmen,” and “Dawn of the Dead,” told SixSeeds that he was first attracted to the very kid-friendly “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” by images of powerful flying owls. He pictured the wind over their feathers and the looks in their eyes, which prompted him to delve into the story as we sat down in Washington, DC. Turns out, it’s quite a story, even if it is about owls.
Based on the book series by Kathryn Lasky, the movie follows a fledgling barn owl named Soren. He grows up being hearing tales of courage and valor about the mighty Guardians, owls who protect the realm from their mighty tree, Ga’Hoole. His brother Kludd scoffs at the stories, considering them myths for babies. When Soren and Kludd fall out of their tree during a brotherly scuffle, minons of the evil Metal Beak kidnap them and carry them to his fortress, St. Aggie’s. Encouraged by a female named Nyra, Metal Beak plans a new owl world order in which the “inferior” species serve his master species, the barn owls. Soren teams up with Gylfie, a tiny Elf Owl, to find the Guardians and convince them to defeat Metal Beak.
Sound familiar? It should. Like the “Harry Potter” series and the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” “The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is a retelling of the Second World War. Good and courageous people (owls/hobbits/wizards) only wish to live their peaceful lives in their homes (tree/Shire/Hogwarts), but dark forces are stirring which require them to pick up arms (talons/swords/wands) and fight tyranny. Slow to rise, but determined once they do, they fight against desperate odds because evil must be resisted, even if it cost one’s life and even if victory is unimaginable.
The film isn’t so far from Snyder’s “300” after all.
It certainly echoes his style. Created from CGI animation, Snyder frequently slows the action way, way, way down so the viewer sees the twitch of a feather or hears the intake of breath through a beak in a moment that matters so much that it seems frozen in time. Some of the animation is quite beautiful. Available in 3D, it avoids gimmicks, but the 3D makes the animation richer.
However, the themes are what make the movie so good for kids. Mentored by the Churchill-ish Ezylryb, Soren learns that the Guardians believe the strong must protect the weak. Metal Beak, for his part, believes that the strong shall rule and the weak shall perish. Each young owl must choose sides. Each young owl must find out how far his gizzard (owl-speak for heart) can take him.
“They wanted more of a comedy,” Snyder told me, “but I told them, hey, fellas, that’s not me. I’m an action guy.” Rated PG for some sequences of scary action, the film is appropriate for all but the youngest children and has no “jokes” that one doesn’t want to explain after the film. With only a few lighthearted moments, the tone of the movie feels like a Winston Churchill speech, one of the more rousing ones.
Frankly, children could use more of these films.
We ply them with Shreks and princesses when perhaps we should be girding them more for defending what’s right. Indeed we could all use more. There’s a reason “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” had such huge financial success. Audiences are hungry for non-cynical tales of valor, told well. Happily for the future (and for Warner Brothers), “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is just such a movie.
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