Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (1:37, PG, Imax, 3-D) — other: talking animals, 2nd string, original
This is just a gorgeous movie. The attention to detail is incredible. By comparison, last week's animated talking-animal flick, Alpha and Omega, looks like a 2nd grader's crayon scribblings.
It also uses 3-D to best effect — not with stuff poking out of the screen at you (which I always thot took me OUT of the story by forcefully reminding me that I was in a theater), but rather with super close-ups, depth of field, and taking full advantage of our real 3rd dimension, the vertical, in the many scenes of flying and soaring. (I still quibble over the use of dissolves instead of cuts, however, because they always produce some disorientation as the focus shifts unnaturally.)
Earlier this year we saw the delightful How To Train Your Dragon, and its pedigree was unmistakable: It was from the same artistic team that gave us Lilo & Stitch. Same deal here: The beaks, feathers, eyes, lip flaps, etc. of the owls trace their lineage straight back to the penguins of Happy Feet, except that here they're even better. Credit the animators at Animal Logic for the superb work.
Like Dragon, with its wide variety of dragons, Owls shows many different sizes, shapes, and colors of owls. Unfortunately, this wasn't of sufficient help in the action scenes. As in the Transformers movies, it's difficult to keep track of who's who, as there's a continuous blur of feathers, beaks, and claws. The pacing is also odd. For a bit there's a flurry too fast for the eye to follow, then everything goes into extra slo-mo, then it's back to kaleidoscope time, and so on. I'm sure that the filmmakers who invested several years of their lives with these characters had no trouble figuring out what was going on, but it didn't work so well for those of us just meeting them for the 1st time.
The story doesn't go much beyond a standard hero's quest. We open with sibling rivalry between owlets Soren (Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) as both are trying their wings for the 1st time; it doesn't begin well. Soren meets with some limited success and helpfully tries to show his brother what worked, but Kludd is resentful and thinks Soren is just trying to 1-up him. Later that night, as the folks are out hunting, they sneak out of the nest for a little additional touch-and-go practice, but they get tangled up and fall to the ground, where they are snatched up by much larger adult owls who basically kidnap them and carry them off to a forced-labor camp euphemistically called Saint Aegolius Academy.
Here we get a substantial departure from a quasi-realistic nature movie. The rulers of St. Aggie's, who style themselves The Pure Ones, are plotting a fascist takeover of owldom, and they have torches, metal-working skills, and access to some mysterious force that arises from their collection of tiny bits of metal that get upchucked in owl pellets. They have also discovered that they can blank the brains of their captives if they can make them stare upward all night long, so they get "moonblinked".
This doesn't work with the liberty-loving Soren, nor on the tiny Gylfie (Emile Barclay), whom he literally takes under his wing all night long. In the morning they feign complicity with their overseers, but soon they're in a position to escape and seek help from the legendary Guardians (maddeningly pronounced "goddians" by the all-Aussie cast) who live across the sea in the great Tree of Ga'Hoole. Kludd, however, is beguiled by promises of power and glory and throws in his lot with The Pure Ones.
And so the quest is well begun. Before it's over, there will be acts of heroism, stupidity, betrayal, arrogance, nobility, and sacrifice. While no blood is visibly shed, thus preserving the PG rating, there's a lot of fighting with sharpened claws (often augmented with metal blades), and all involved take everything pretty seriously. Since a lot of the action occurs at night (owls being nocturnal, y'know), it's also dark physically as well as psychically. If you're thinking about taking the kidlets to see iy, it'll probably be OK if they're able to handle the original "Hansel and Gretel", "Snow White", and Bambi's mom getting shot.
A 3-minute Road Runner cartoon, "Fur of Flying", precedes the feature. It too is in 3-D but nowhere near as lushly animated; otherwise it's your standard Warner Bros. treatment of the ever hopeful and resilient Wile E. Coyote.
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