Thanks to a title that was seemingly lifted from Finnegans Wake, I initially had no idea what Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole was about. But now I do. It's about owls. Like, a metric shit-ton of owls.
More precisely, it is about owls who are apparently committed to reenact Snyder's sword-and-sandals blockbuster 300. Not the Battle of Thermopylae, mind you. The film 300. It is like The Society for Creative Anachronism decreed that 2007 was anachronistic enough and decided to recreate in 2010 the slow-motion fight sequences, moral certitude, and craggy sets of King Leonidas' last stand. Oh, and if The Society for Creative Anachronism was staffed entirely by owls.
Please don't think I disliked this movie. It is a handsome film. Every frame of this movie could be airbrushed onto a van. The owls looked good, whatever they did. Owls were flying. Owls were crying. Owls were screaming about gizzards and tytos and racial politics. There was an evil Helen Mirren kabuki owl. Owls were working as blacksmiths, making tiny Spartan helmets. There were so many owls that I felt like I was watching a 90-minute advertisement for Rush. I wouldn't have minded seeing a Neil Peart owl, pounding out "YYZ" using his talons.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. What is Ga'Hoole about? Soren (Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (Ryan Kwanten a.k.a. Jason Stackhouse from True Blood ) are young owls who are kidnapped by the Pure Ones, a group of evil barn owls who espouse the racial purity of, uh, barn owls. With the help of Pure One defector Grimble (Hugo Weaving), Soren and his pal Gylfie (Emily Barclay) escape from The Pure One's Owl Mordor — they must warn the legendary Guardians of Ga'hoole (an owl United Nations) about Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton, an owl General Kael) and Nyra's (owl Helen Mirren) magical machine that discombobulates owls' gizzards (no embellishment).
Along the way, Soren and Gylfie meet the fantasy-film-road-trip-required coterie of unlikely rapscallions and a soothsaying echidna. Meanwhile, Kludd acts exactly like Jason Stackhouse, getting wrapped up in dubious causes and wanting to make sweet owl love to Metalbeak's main squeeze.
The film is based on Kathryn Lansky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole Scholastic book series, so the whole Guardians of Ga'Hoole phenomenon sort of flew under my radar. (This happened with Twilight books as well. When I first saw previews for the film, I thought it was a vampire movie for people who were really into orienteering or something.) I suppose all the cameos and highfalutin speeches have emotional resonance for kids who've read the books, but all I saw was a bunch of chatty owls flying from Owl Mordor to the Owl UN ad infinitum. Stuff happened, and owls were involved.
Like Watchmen, which imbued each scene with heavy significance for those in the know, I feel like I would've enjoyed this movie more if I was 11 and really fucking liked owls. Also the pacing was wonky — three books were crammed into this one movie. Owls whizzed in and out of scenes like bats out of Hell (incidentally, the movie features bats out of a place that resembles Hell, and they fly more lethargically than the owls). It has the vibe of an early Harry Potter flick, which drowned audiences in an effluvium of infodump.
In short, the aerial kung fu of Ga'hoole makes the film — the CGI really is quite spectacular, no fooling. I recommend this movie for kids 8-11 (kids under 8 will freak out; those over 12 will pretend not to like it) and high-functioning stoners who can afford to pay the $17 for a ticket to a 3D movie (the word "gizzard" is screamed 500 or so times at crucial moments). The rest of you will probably be fine watching Willow again and imagining every character is an owl.