Movie Review - Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

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Zack Snyder
Warner Bros. Pictures
 for some sequences of scary action

There are computer animated movies about animals, and then there are computer animated movies about animals. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is one of the latter—which is as much as to say, forget about the Pixar and Universal Pictures films about heroic rodents, and get ready for a movie about heroes that would literally eat those characters alive. Or, don’t get ready for it. Your choice.

The animation and imagery of The Owls of Ga’Hoole is amazing. It’s beautiful, even, and at the same time not so terribly lifelike that you forget that you’re watching a drama, not a documentary. If there are weaknesses in the visual art, my untrained eye didn’t notice them. Reason number one why you might want to show this movie to your family—the art: good to go. No hesitations or howevers necessary.

Reason number two—the story? Not quite so much praise due on that account. In The Owls of Ga’Hoole, we follow the adventures of Soren—but just barely. The story is pretty fast-paced, with lots of action and lots of characters, but very little explanation, reaction time or emotional attachment to anyone. Our introduction to Soren’s youthful belief in the Guardians, and his brother Kludd’s scornful disbelief, suddenly turns into Tasmanian devil attacks, kidnapping and brainwashing, all within the first few minutes of the film, and at a rapid-fire pace proceeds to rebellion, murder, escape, and a journey to find the Guardians—leaving us at the halfway point of the movie, with little or no time to be especially concerned about any one thing, or even to be entirely sure what’s going on, and why. Questions like “Were we supposed to be saddened by that character’s death?”—“Weren’t the moviemakers supposed to play the story out as if the audience didn’t already know the Guardians were real?”—“Shouldn’t Soren’s parents be more concerned about the loss of their son?” and “How did metal flecks turn into a glowing, blue, owl-torturing force field?” may not absolutely kill our enjoyment of the film. Strangely enough, though, the faster the pace of the movie gets, the more time you find to ask those distracting questions—and the more distracting those questions become. If you want a really engaging plotline, I don’t think The Owls of Ga’Hoole is going to cut it.

Reasons numbers three through five—the action, the positive messages and the happy ending? Eh, so-so.

Violent and Intense Content:
Now, by “eh, so-so” I definitely don’t mean that the action wasn’t convincing. A lot of that falls under the art and animation heading, though. And without strong ties to the characters, the rest of it tends to feel like action violence just for the sake of action violence.

Owls are birds of prey, so things like a cute little mouse being snatched off a tree branch—its fate left to imagination—were anticipated. What we didn’t necessarily know beforehand was that these birds of prey were going to don helmets and razor-sharp metal claws and lock in mortal combat every so often. A number of owls are killed in this movie, whether by stabbing, slashing or being overwhelmed by flames or vampire bats. Soren, disillusioned about the effects of war, tells his mentor that “the battle just sounds like…” “Like hell?” the other owl asks. I think that’s a bit of a stretch—or, actually a lot of a stretch, but there’s a reason why he didn’t say “Like your average PG-rated adventure sequence?”

The evil forces in the story ensure the obedience of captured owlets by moonblinking them—lulling them to sleep in the light of the moon. When they wake up, the young owls are in a trance, their willpower gone, their identity wiped away, and their eyes white and glazed over. When you combine the hypnosis theme with the ominous setting of stone obelisks and war masks, and a soundtrack that could have worked just as well in an R-rated film, the moonblinking scenes can be fairly intense. The glowing, blue force field is also much more than just magnetism playing with an owl’s equilibrium. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t have been glowing blue, now, would it? Science definitely wasn’t the main thing the director wanted to communicate in those segments. Torture, fear and impending destruction were.

There are indeed a number of positive worldview elements in Legend of the Guardians, including standard ones like courage and sacrifice, and more unusual ones like the father actually being right. There are also, however, several negative elements, including the conspicuous lack of gender distinctions in the owls’ complex society. Any task—including fighting in those “hell-like” battles—is open to any owl, whether male or female.

A major theme throughout the entire film is the “Trust your gizzard [read: your inner being]” philosophy. In a very Star-Warsian unfolding of events, Soren learns that “through our gizzard the voices of the ages whisper to us,” that he can sense things intuitively as long as he trusts his gizzard, and that when his gizzard says to do one thing, and his head says to do another, he needs to ignore his head. And, at last, when he is forced to fly through a raging forest fire in order to save the other owls, Soren takes a final page from Luke Skywalker, closes his eyes, and trusts his gizzard to guide him through the flames and falling branches. And it works.

Dreams—legends, not ambitions—are touted as the things that make us strong, and that make us “who we are.” On the other hand, Soren’s delighted “The stories—they’re real!” is followed by his father’s “You make them real, Soren”—which, since it’s at the end of the movie, after everybody’s already figured out that the legend of the Guardians is completely founded in reality, seems like a deliberate nod to existentialism, where our reality is dependent on our own thoughts about it.

There are a couple of remarks about “fate” and such, a charlatan echidna who goes around claiming that everything had been foretold to him previously, some comical bickering between silly grown-up owls, and a potentially problematic statement that Soren and his new friends have “become a family.”

In the owl world, God’s name or title is apparently Glaux—as in, “by the mercy of Glaux,” “only lightly wounded, thank Glaux,” “Oh, good Glaux,” and a star named “the Eye of Glaux.” There doesn’t seem to be anything about this “Glaux” that is actually inconsistent with the God of the Bible (assuming that the “eye” reference is metaphorical, and doesn’t limit Glaux to the confines of a physical body). The possible problem with this minor theme of the owls’ Higher Being is that, in a culture where many religions are often (falsely) said to worship the same God, it might be unwise to get too used to hearing “God” called by a name that doesn’t actually belong to him.

The art of The Owls of Ga’Hoole is great. The story, most of the action, and the worldview are all so-so. And the ending? It somehow leaves something to be desired—something in every category but the art, in my opinion. And, indeed, opinion does factor into the rating. Other families may find that they are able to enjoy the story more than I was, or at least better able to connect with the characters, and that would be okay. If viewers are twelve or older, I don’t think the violence and intensity are going to be a problem. And at the end of the movie, I wouldn’t be shocked or dismayed to find that other people found it a generally pleasing film. In fact, If I watched it again, without pen and paper in my hands, I would doubtless find that a little prior familiarity would go a long way toward making the story and characters feel more engaging. However, you still have to deal with the worldview problems, which are not just matters of opinion; and since those problems are so closely aligned with the usual false teaching of my present culture, I don’t know that greater familiarity with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is necessarily worth it. I’m not going to draw a line in the sand over this one, but, in my opinion, Legend of the Guardians is, unfortunately, Not Worth Watching Again.

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