Midway through Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole I realized two things. One, that there has almost certainly never been a film with a more stupid title than that, and two, that the story seemed weirdly familiar.
And the story goes something like this: two Barn Owls grow up hearing stories about the aforementioned ‘Guardians’, a legendary alliance of owls sworn to protect the kingdom of Ga’Hoole. Said owls are then kidnapped by some nasty Long-eared owls who are working for an evil despot owl called Metalbeak, who is enslaving other birds, kitting them out in metal helmets made out of tin foraged from owl pellets, and assembling a super army of owls who will then go out into the world, defeat all the other birds and a create a master race. Metalbeak goes on to describe his army as ‘Pure Ones’, and he almost gets away with it too – until the Barn Owls break their bonds, the ‘Guardians’ transpire to be real, and both Guardians and Barn Owls roll into Germany, liberating Berlin as they go.
Yes, give or take the owl thing, the premise of Legend Of The Guardians… (referred to as such from here on in as I refuse to use the word ‘Ga’Hoole’ anymore than is strictly necessary) may well remind you a little bit of the tale of World War II. This is nothing new, Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal trod similar territory, arguably went a step further by containing an actual act of genocide, and was forged with a real darkness that came about from first watching it around the time I was being exposed to History lessons at school. Legend Of The Guardians is similar in that it’s certainly a film for children, but also that isn’t childlike.
Based on a series of books set in Australia by American children’s writer Kathryn Lansky, such weighty issues lend themselves to the not-particularly-kid-friendly direction of Zack Snyder, who as well as being the man behind 2011’s Superman reboot, also boasts a CV featuring 2004’s excellent Dawn Of The Dead reworking, the gory 300 and the disappointing, but not particularly frivolous Watchmen adaptation. He’s to be applauded for the tone his movie adopts. As I seem to bang on about everytime I write about an animated movie, the long-form medium always works best when there’s a project that’s pitched more towards adulthood than it is towards infancy, which is certainly the case here.
Whilst slightly on the weary side – but then, World War II wasn’t known for its brevity either – it also helps that the animation is flawless (this is a Warner Bros. creation, and it must help that the studio has a decades experience at animating owls for the Harry Potter franchise). The 3D is excellent too, and it’s refreshing to watch a film in said format with content that actually lends itself to shooting it in such a way, and that isn’t just a ploy to coax more bums on seats. But then, from Avatar to Up, that’s always been the way with flying. Legend Of The Guardians… is an intelligent, often thrilling excuse to soar the skies with a beauty and grace rarely found in digital animation outside of the Pixar stable.
Oh, and I also realized a third thing. That I knew more about owls than I did when I started watching. Which is always nice.