Young Owl brothers Soren (Sturgess) and Kludd (Kwanten) are abducted and taken to the sinister fortress of St Aegolius, where supposedly long-since defeated evil owl overlord Metalbeak (Edgerton) is secretly raising an army. It is up to Soren to escape an
The problem with fantasy is that, even after the mega-success of the Lord Of The Rings movies or World Of Warcraft’s online dominance, it’s a hard genre for the unconverted to take seriously. We’re talking about something populated by elves, orcs, gnomes and draenei (that’s Warcraft); has plots involving things like “Callandor, the sword that is not a sword” (that’s Robert Jordan’s novels); and features proper nouns like “Excrazia” or “Skirath’a’Skiral’a’Skirallion” (okay, those are made-up, but what isn’t?)… Well, even harder to take seriously — even if it is primarily aimed at children — is the subgenre of animal fantasy.
Despite coming from a filmmaker whose last two literary adaptations were of Frank Miller’s 300 and Alan Moore’s epochal Watchmen, The Legend Of The Guardians doesn’t do anything to reverse the trend. Based on Australian novelist Kathryn Lansky’s Guardians Of Ga’Hoole series, it’s like Lord Of The Rings with owls. And despite featuring armourclad avians (yes, there are owl blacksmiths) and having character and place names like Kludd, Ezylryb and —indeed — Ga’Hoole issuing from the beaks of birds, it takes itself just as seriously. Also, rather surprisingly for a ‘family’ movie, it doesn’t hang around for those fresh to its dense, feathery mythology, which is squawked out mercilessly by even its non-Australian cast members (Jim Sturgess and Helen Mirren among them) in thick Aussie accents.
At least, while your head’s spinning with vowel-starved monikers and dark machinations involving “flecks” extracted from owl vomit, you will be able to tell one bird from another, thanks to the film’s truly impressive animation, both of character and environment. Unlike most CG ‘toons since the awful and creepy Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Guardians is near photo-real, with its vast, painterly, deep focus environments serviced well by the 3D format. It’s good to see a kids’ animated film given all the visual heft you’d expect from an epic live-action picture.
Similarly, there’s something appealing about a talking-animal tale which doesn’t cute-up its subjects too much. Sure, there’s a few fluffy chicklings, but like Richard Adams’ Watership Down (itself kind of a Rings-with-rabbits and begging for this kind of big-screen treatment), the characters live in a vicious world, red in tooth and claw. This is driven home right at the outset, when a cute widdle mouse scampers out on a tree branch, only to be snatched up by a pair of talons and delivered as breakfast to our hero.These are birds of prey, after all. Even if they do have silly names.
This is unlikely to win Kathryn Lanskys antipodean owl fantasy any new fans, but even the bemused (and confused) can luxuriate in some grand-scale visual storytelling.