Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
From the outside, siblings Soren and Kludd don't appear to be all that different. They're both young barn owls who are just getting the hang of flying. On the inside, though, the two brothers couldn't be more distinct.
Soren loves listening to his dad's stories of the great Guardians of Ga'Hoole—noble owls who once beat back an evil band known as the Pure Ones. For Soren, there's nothing better than to aspire to the Guardians' lofty ideals.
Kludd, on the other hand, scoffs at that idea. No daydreaming on silly stories of make-believe legends for him. He'll simply hone his flying and hunting skills and grab the things of life that he wants—including his father's favor.
It's that super-competitiveness, however, that causes Kludd and Soren to end up tumbling out of their tree to the ground, which is a dangerous place to be for owlets. In fact, for a moment it looks like the only future the unlucky brothers will have is to be a wild boar's late-night snack. But before they can even hoot in horror, they're snatched up by none other than minions of the Pure Ones and swept off to a secret lair.
While Kludd is selected to be a future soldier, his brother ends up in the slave labor corner of the camp. Things aren't looking good for Soren. And it appears that owl genocide is being planned. There's only one hope left: Someone must escape and pull together a small band of resisters. Someone must soar across the seemingly endless miles of sea to the fabled tree of Ga'Hoole and warn the Guardians. Someone must believe it can be done. And Soren thinks he just might be that someone.
This is an epic adventure of heroism and bravery. Soren and his cobbled-together family of misfit owls have to face impossible odds to save the owl kingdom. Each one in the group selflessly puts his or her life on the line. The Guardians, too, are willing to sacrifice and even go to war for the needs of their kin.
When the Pure Ones (who are barn owls themselves) move to separate out the "lesser owls" from their captured lot, Soren steps forward to defend a tiny elf owl named Gylfie. As a consequence, he shares her fate and is sent to the slave labor camp. There the two become fast friends.
An older guard in the Pure Ones' ranks, Grimble, determines to help Soren and Gylfie. He goes against his unjust orders and teaches the young owls to fly in hopes that they might somehow help the enslaved. Grimble ultimately gives his life to help the young pair escape.
Soren and Kludd's parents speak of shared hopes that they might properly prepare their kids for the inevitable travails of life.
A shaman-like Echidna gives Soren and his small group guidance, saying that their arrival and actions were all "foretold." The Pure Ones force their captives to stare at the moon, putting them in a "moon blinked" trance-like state.
Though the story glides clear of anything bloody or gory, young viewers will sit through lots of scary and jarring moments. Intense situations range from a snarling wild boar that leaps at the camera, to manhandled owls forced into slave labor, to a group of heroes almost killed in a raging storm at sea, to armored warriors viciously slashing at one another with metal talons.
A bird is impaled with a flaming spike. Another breaks his wing and tumbles into a raging fire. Owls are beaten down with a magnetic superweapon, and bats are sent in to drain their blood. (Soren and friends fight them.) The villainous Metal Beak wears a metal helmet that doesn't quite cover the ugly wounds he's incurred from a past battle.
We watch him and his mate plot a massive genocide.
Emphasizing this ever-present sense of danger and peril is the fact that some victimized characters spend the majority of the film doing nothing but trembling in fear.
Crude or Profane Language
A battle-scarred fighter refers to war as "hell." Characters exclaim "glock" instead of God.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Soren and Kludd break the rules and go out to "fly" without their parents' supervision. (This results in them falling to the ground.) Kludd kidnaps his own sister and uses her as bait in a Pure Ones trap. Kludd tells his brother, "Honor is just another word for weakness."
Soren's baby sister coughs up her first owl "pellet," which is then defined as the fur and bones of the mice she's eaten.
When the projectors started rolling at the screening I attended of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, several different things grabbed my attention in pretty short order. The first was just how gorgeous this animated film looks. Without question, the strikingly photo-realistic owls and colorful environments are a visual treat. The second thing, however, was how hard it is to keep track of, well, who's hoo.
Based on the first three books of the popular children's series by author Kathryn Lasky, this flick has a lot of story and a lot of characters to cover. And to my ornithologically untrained eye, one owl looks pretty much like another. These birds don't get easy cartoon names like Daffy or Woody, either. Instead, they're stuck with far less memorable monikers such as Kludd and Ezylryb.
That's almost beside the point, though, since kids—this movie's primary target—seem to be able to keep track of everything without even trying. And some of the things they'll be keeping track of while watching these birds is just how brave and heroic Soren is. Epic tales of great heroism and bravery may start to feel a bit familiar to those of us over, um, 30, but they're brand-new for 10-year-olds. And they're often worth retelling and rehearing because of how they lift us up and encourage us to make good choices in the face of difficult odds. They entertain while reminding us of where our hearts should be.
Those lessons might translate to facing down a scary test at school or standing by a friend in need. And that alone is something well worth hooting about.
But kids'll also be soaking up a surprising number of threatening and perilous moments along the way. They start when Soren and Kludd first tumble out of their nest sweet nest and don't stop till we reach the owl Armageddon ending. So don't be surprised if little ones choose dad's lap over their cold and uncuddly theater seat in the midst of battle.
I heard a fellow reviewer refer to the movie as Lord of the Rings with owls. And that might actually be a good guidepost for the kind of action to expect.