Release Date:  September 24, 2010
Rating:  PG (for some sequences of scary action)
Genre:  Fantasy, Animation, Adaptation
Run Time:  90 min.
Director:  Zack Snyder
Actors: (Voices of) Abbie Cornish, Emily Barclay, Ryan Kwanten, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margoyles, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham

Zack Snyder is a promising director who has yet to bring his storytelling abilities to the same level as his visuals. He's best known for 300, a blockbuster that was a landmark more for how the film looked than for its characters and drama. Then came Snyder's much anticipated adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen. Again, the filmmaker got the look right, but couldn't bring the separate storylines together in a satisfying way.

Snyder's strengths and weaknesses are on display again in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based on three books in a series written by Kathryn Lasky. The film looks marvelous in 3D, but the visuals go only so far. In tying together multiple books, Snyder and screenwriters John Orloff and Emil Stern pack in too much and too little—too many characters in a plot that tries to cover too much ground for its 90-minute running time, leaving its characters and ideas underdeveloped. That's too bad, because the story's themes about believing in things unseen and the power of storytelling might resonate with Christian viewers.

If only the story told by the film were as powerful as the influential tales that hold sway over its characters. A young barn owl named Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is enthralled by the legend of the guardians of Ga'Hoole, as told to him through stories passed down by his father (Hugo Weaving). The guardians' mission, to which Soren aspires, is to mend the broken, make strong the weak and vanquish evil. The latter comes in the form of the Pure Ones, cruel owls who prize power and might over character and honor.

Soren's embrace of the stories of the guardians is rooted in his hope to be part of their world. "Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it's not real," his father says—shades of Hebrews 11:1. Soren's brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), dismisses the stories, but their sibling spat leads to trouble when they are carried off and made to serve the Pure Ones. While Soren plans an escape, Kludd sits under the tutelage of the Pure Ones' queen (Helen Mirren).

Not only do the Pure Ones exist, but so do the Guardians, as Soren comes to learn. "Words were the only proof I ever had that you were real!" he exclaims upon discovering that the Guardians are more than just legendary characters from ancient stories. These comments will stir the emotions of anyone who believes in One whom they have not seen (John 20:29), so it's disappointing that the wonder of that moment passes so quickly.

Writers Orloff and Stern have bitten off more than they can chew, giving the condensed story here an overstuffed quality that prevents a deeper connection with the audience. The introduction of numerous owls early in the film comes quickly and requires close attention. Although the owls are individually distinctive, their visual characteristics aren't always clearly male or female, leaving human viewers unaccustomed to seeing a cross section of owls struggling to determine who's who.


The film's PG rating should be heeded. The Legend of the Guardians includes some well orchestrated action sequences, but the intensity level and themes of betrayal will likely put it out-of-bounds for younger children. In fact, the film is rather dour and serious, confronting issues of class, oppression and extermination—not the usual lighthearted family fare.

Snyder doesn't let that seriousness overwhelm the proceedings, keeping things moving at a good clip and judiciously dropping in some much-needed humor along the way. He's made the most of the 3D presentation here, and has once again showed off his strengths as a visual artist. However, parents are advised to exercise caution when considering the film's appropriateness for younger children and those who are easily frightened.

The Legend of the Guardians is not without merit, but the lingering impression is of how much better it could have been had the story been split into at least one additional film. That would have given the characters a bit more room to be introduced, allowing for their distinctive traits to become clearer and more endearing to the audience. A sequel might shed light on the original, minimizing its weaknesses over time, but on its own, Legend is a potentially powerful story muted by its compression into a 90-minute running time.

Questions?  Feedback?  Contact the writer at mailto:crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  An owl says he hates the Pure Ones, and hates what he's become.

  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  None.

  • Sex/Nudity:  None.

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  • Violence:  Owls are seen snatching mice and birds in their claws, but the prey is not shown being killed and is sometimes set free; later, owls are shown eating grubs; an owl vomits up his first "pellet"; owls are attacked by an animal; a flashback to a traumatic event involving the Pure Ones; owls flee an attack; a queen owl tries to kill another owl; owls are "moonblinked"—similar to paralyzed—by the Pure Ones; an owl falls into a fire.

  • Religion/Morals:  Comments about believing in things you can't see, and the power of stories and tradition to affect us; owls are ordered to serve the Pure Ones; a porcupine speaks of several things that were "foretold"; the strong are said to rule the weak; the owls believe that "through our gizzards the voices of the angels speak to us"; fighting in battles is said to be not heroic, but "what's right"; the guardians are said to mend the broken, make strong the weak and vanquish evil.