Whoooo? Whoooo? Whooooo loved Legends of the Guardians?
Why, I did!
Yes, yes. I know all the standard raps against Legend of the Guardians. It's too dark and violent for kids. The plot is too complicated. Not enough fart jokes. Too much of a ripoff of (insert George Lucas space trilogy here). Won't do well at the box office. Blah, blah, blah, mwah mwah mwah Charlie Brown teacher mwah mwah. We've all heard the objections.
Piffle, say I. This film is visually beautiful - no, gorgeous - no, stunning. And quite original. That's no small achievement, in a world crowded with brightly-colored, frenetic cookie cutter kids' movies. Legend of the Guardians doesn't elbow you in the ribs with its own cleverness, or jump up and down for attention, or bully an emotional response out of you. I'd describe it as an intimate adventure. It lets you breathe and relax and soar with the owls on your own terms. (I'm sure it's no coincidence that the main character is named Soren). The dialogue unfolds naturally, without feeling rushed or forced. Every feather is beautifully detailed and beautifully lit, every leaf meticulously rendered. It's like Avatar Junior. Except with owls in gladiator masks.
Of course, the film retains many Zach Snyder touches. There's lots of shots that abruptly brake to super-slo-mo (particularly when talons are within an inch of slashing nastily at someone's face). Camerawork is heightened by a full chorus and a woman ululating along the Aeolian scale. The color palette, particularly for the battle scenes, is "burnt somber", with slashes of red here and there. Yet the message is the opposite of 300. In 300, only the strong were worthy of survival, while the weak were left to die in the elements. In this movie, the Guardians' stated mission is to mend the weak, heal what is broken, and vanquish evil. (I guess the Spartans were all about vanquishing evil, too, but they did it with abdominal crunches).
So, the story, in a nutshell: Soren, a fluffy young barn owl being raised in a big tree, thrills to the bedtime stories his father tells him of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. After a gravitational mishap, in which Soren and his brother Kludd fall out of the Cute Tree and hit every branch on the way down, the two find themselves kidnapped by a band of evil owls called the Pure Ones. They are taken to a bleak mountain lair, where Soren is put to work dissecting owl pellets and picking out flecks of metal which the evil owls are using to construct a humungous plasmatic gizzard-zapper. (What these fragments of metal are, or why mice eat them, goes unexplained. I just assumed it was cheese-flavored unobtanium, and didn't worry my pretty little head about it any more.)
After his capture, Soren befriends a tiny elf owl named Gylfie. Together the two of them resist the indoctrination ritual known as "moonblinking", in which the owls stare up at a beautiful object for hours until they forget who they are and where they came from. In certain circles, this is known as "davidblinking". The sensation will be familiar to viewers of Pope Joan.
Meanwhile, Hugo Weaving secretly teaches Soren and Gylfie to fly and then helps them escape. On their journey to Ga'Hoole, they meet a pair of owls called Twilight and Digger, and this is where the film gets really interesting. And it wasn't just me - the rest of the audience perked up noticeably when Digger arrived and raised the energy level. Digger is just the cutest lil' thang ever, from his white eyebrows to his spotty head to his hoppy, nervous personality. He's a bit exhausting to watch, but I suppose burrowing owls (Squeeus caffeinus) do have a tendency to twitch around a lot and act agitated. And boy, can he ever dig. I'd love to hire Digger to plant some rosebushes.
It's a testament to David's skill that when he first spoke, I didn't even recognize his voice. I'm not sure what I was expecting - an owl with an eerie Spartan relish for violence, maybe - but Digger's voice fits perfectly with the character and the tone of the movie. He doesn't sound like a child, but he sounds childlike, if that makes sense. He also had great lines and got some of the biggest laughs from the audience: "Just because it's sound, doesn't make it music.". The little girl behind us whispered "That owl is my favorite, he's the cutest one!" and I thought, "You don't know the half of it, my small friend".
Unfortunately, Digger sort of disappears for the remainder of the movie, which focuses on the relationship between Soren and his mentor, Owlby-Wan Kenobi - er, Ezylryb - as the young owl learns to "trust his gizzard" to fly through windstorms, lightning, and blizzards. There's a climactic battle scene, Guardians vs. Pure Ones, in which Soren uses a flaming teapot to disable a winch that shuts off the electrostatic plasma lamp which is paralyzing the Gahooligans' gizzards so they can't move....or something. OK, maybe the plot isn't the strong point of this movie.
Digger, being a burrower, isn't exactly at home in the sky, so he doesn't feature hugely in the battle scenes. But at the end, along with the others, he is rewarded for his valor with a Purple Hoot medal.
Oh sorry, that was really bad. Even Digger would be ashamed of that pun.