tek's rating: ¼

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (PG)
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Caution: potential spoilers

This is based on a series of books that I haven't read. The first thing to say about the movie is that the animation is pretty awesome; even critics who panned the movie praised that aspect of it. (It was released in 3D, but I never got to see it in a theater, only on DVD, in 2D, which was spectacular enough.) The film also has a pretty great score, as well as a song by (appropriately enough) Owl City. (There are also a couple of good tracks in the movie that aren't on the soundtrack, including one by Dead Can Dance and one by Lisa Gerrard.) As for any complaints critics might have about the movie, such as lack of character development or a weak plot... I feel like I must have watched a completely different movie. It started out slowly, basically just cute, and for awhile I didn't expect to rate it more than two smileys. But I thought it got progressively better, and by the end I knew I had to give it at least three. (Not quite four, but it's still a much better movie than I was expecting.)

So... there are a bunch of different species of owl in the movie, which I'm not even going to bother keeping track of (that's the kind of thing Wikipedia is for). But it starts with a family of owls, including a mom, dad, two sons (Soren and Kludd), and a young daughter (Eglantine). Oh, and they have a nursemaid snake named Mrs. P. (Don't ask me how a snake ended up as nursemaid to owls, I have no idea.) Anyway, Soren and Eglantine are big fans of their father's stories about the legendary owls of Ga'Hoole, who fought an epic war long ago. Their hero is an owl named Lyze of Keil, the leader of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. Meanwhile, Kludd is sick of hearing the stories, which he believes are just myths. Early in the movie, Kludd and Soren are starting to learn "branching" from their parents, gliding from branch to branch (they're not quite ready for true flying yet).

One night, the brothers go out to practice on their own, and end up falling out of the tree. They're attacked by a wild animal, but are rescued by some other owls. Those owls, however, don't return them home. Instead, they take them to the secret lair of the Pure Ones, evil owls who were the villains of the stories their father told, who had been defeated by the Guardians. Lots of other owlets were also brought there, to become slaves of the Pure Ones... though the strongest were to become soldiers. Soren had met an owl named Gylfie en route to the lair. The two of them were assigned to become "pickers," while Kludd was to become a soldier. I don't want to give away any details of the nasty stuff that happens while they're captives, but... it's bad.

After awhile, Soren and Gylfie are trained to fly by another owl, who had been a slave of the Pure Ones for a long time, and wanted to help the owlets escape, so that they might find and warn the Guardians. They were nearly stopped by Nyra (Helen Mirren), the mate of Metal Beak (the leader of the Pure Ones). But they did manage to get away, though Kludd remained behind. Soren and Gylfie soon meet a couple of owls named Digger (who seems kinda crazy) and Twilight (who plays a lute and calls himself a warrior-poet, though his songs aren't very good). The owlets are soon reunited with Mrs. P, who's been out looking for them ever since they disappeared. The five of them begin traveling together, and will eventually meet the legendary Guardians of Ga'Hoole, who invite them to begin training for one of various jobs (warrior, blacksmith, etc.) Soren and the others report what they've learned of Metal Beak's plans, so the king of the Guardians sends out a few owls, led by Allomere (Sam Neill), to investigate the owlets' claims (which do sound rather improbable). Although... well, this was not the first time in the movie that we saw Allomere. He's someone you should make note of in an earlier scene.

There are a number of other owls the newcomers meet at the Tree of Ga'Hoole, including a girl named Otulissa, who seems like she could become a romantic interest for Soren. Though her role in the movie was pretty small, so that didn't really develop. More important was an old owl named Eyzlryb, who provides some more advanced flight training for the owlets. And eventually, Soren will learn something surprising about him (though it didn't really surprise me). I won't say what that was, but... he does have some important and enlightening things to tell Soren about the true nature of war. Kind of heavy stuff for a "kid's movie," but a valuable lesson. Anyway, eventually Allomere returns from his mission. The others who had gone with him didn't make it back, but he did manage to rescue a couple owlets from the Pure Ones... and there's something about that which is important, but which is connected to at least a few plot points I don't want to spoil. The Guardians all prepare for war, and fly off to the lair of the Pure Ones, leaving Soren and his friends behind. However... Soren later learns something that makes him and his friends leave Ga'Hoole, to join the battle.

And that's all I want to divulge of the plot. I'll just say, there are some plot points that some might call predictable or cliched, but which nevertheless are pretty intense and dark, which make the story more emotionally and ethically complicated than you might expect. As for the battle itself... it's actually pretty bad-ass. (These are not just cute birds flying around pecking or scratching, mind you... they wear helmets and have like steel battle blades they wear on their talons. The Pure Ones also have legions of bats with blades on their wings.) But after all the darkness and bad-assery, things do eventually return to a cute scene that echoes the beginning of the movie. But it's a well-earned cuteness, and Soren, Gylfie, Digger, and Twilight are now heroes, who become Guardians themselves....

Oh, I should also mention that the DVD includes a CGI short called Fur of Flying, which is a Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner cartoon. It actually had some twists I didn't see coming, and I found it more amusing than I might have expected. Despite the different animation style, it was fairly reminiscent of watching the old cartoons as a kid.

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