MWC-2010-10-23-LegendOfTheGuardiansTheOwlsOfGaHoole2010(01)Producers of “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” probably hope their film will do for owls what “Happy Feet” did for penguins. That is, make their stuffed character counterparts a must-have gift for the little ones come this Christmas. The mix of cute owls, action and goofy humor has made the Guardian books a hit with the kids, but I fear the movie isn’t likely to inspire the same kind of warmth.

Based on the first three books of the fifteen novel series by children’s author Kathryn Lasky, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” begins with Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) a young barn owlet and his older brother Kludd (voice of True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) are kidnapped by the Pure Ones. Taken to the remote isle of St Aggie’s they discover the evil Pure Ones are building a slave army of “moon blinked” owlets with the intention of taking over all owl kingdoms in the world. With the help of some new friends, but minus his brother who joins the Pure Ones, Soren escapes and alerts the Guardians of the island of Ga’Hoole to the wicked scheme.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is how beautifully animated it is. The owls and owlets are photo realistic, and the wonderfully rendered backgrounds are moody and atmospheric. In fact, one sequence of Soren flying through some extremely rough weather is as visually spectacular as anything we’re likely to see this year. It’s just too bad you’re unlikely to give a hoot about the story.

The story is as standard as it gets. The addition of Lord-of-the-Rings-esque character names like Eglantine and Allomere and some owl on owl violence can’t disguise the fact that this is a story that never really takes flight. Mix and match Cain and Able with a taste of “The Lion King” and you get the basic story outline.
Perhaps director Zach Snyder was trying to keep it simple after his last film, “The Watchmen,” earned savage reviews for its abundance of story, or perhaps he underestimated his audience, assuming that children would be wowed by the visuals and don’t need a great story.

The film does have its pleasures. The voice work is uniformly good, although some of the English accents might be tough for little, unaccustomed ears to decipher, and the 3D action sequences are quite good, although, again, perhaps a bit violent for young eyes.

In the end “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is undeniably a big handsome picture that is, unfortunately, more style than substance.