The Legend of the Guardians (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Legend of the Guardians (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTI write to you all today with sadness.  The opening moments of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (LotG) featured a soaring score and deftness of flight that matched the gorgeous visuals that popped up on screen.  The owl swooped and hunted, taking a rat home for his family, and I was all set to enjoy a rip roaring adventure that appeals to the five year old in me that doesn't get enough love.

Then my heart slowly began to grow heavy as we're introduced to the characters and the plot.  There's still some promise in the enthusiasm of young Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) as he regales in the tales of the legendary Guardians that fought back the Iron Beaks, much to the chagrin of his more skeptical brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten).  This has the touching affect of listening to fairy tales at your parent's knee, but then some unfortunate tonal flashes begin creeping into the film.

There's far too much fascination with pellets and the act of producing pellets.

The problems start with an extended sequence where Soren's little sister hacks up a pellet.  That kind of gross out humor doesn't work to begin with.  But then she's encircled by a snake that seems to be a friend of the family who speaks of her collection of pellet's that the brothers threw up when they were younger.  So in the span of a few minutes we have a scene that goes from juvenile, to gross out, to strangely creepy.

Tonal whiplash sets into play further when, barely a scene later, the young owls are shown fighting for their lives against a tasmanian devil (of all things) that catches them after they fall from the nest.  Shortly afterward, they're kidnapped by two evil owls that partake in the same kind of humor that the pellet scene showcased so well.  This rhythm never ends, it's always an incredibly dark moment followed by humor that is bad to begin with, and inappropriate in context with the violence going on all around it.

This is sad, because the story of LotG is really kind of interesting.  Soren and Kludd are taken to the evil owl lair where the Pure Ones are building an army to take over the valley.  Soren's optimism keeps him innocent while Kludd takes great delight in becoming a fascist.  So Soren escapes with his new friend Gylfie (Emily Barclay) and heads off to find the Guardians.  Along the way they're joined by more comedic relief to ensure that the tonal whiplash remains intact, and help the Guardians in figuring out how to stop the Pure Ones.

It's a shame about the overall tone because Snyder really knows how to set a great action scene in an animated setting.

All of this sets the stage for a grand epic, and at times it seems that Zack Snyder can really make these pieces work.  The battles and numerous scenes of flight are energetic and wonderfully staged, if approaching brutal at times.  Several owls are outright murdered in the movie, but always stylishly and off-screen so as not to scare the audience of children that this film is partly intended for.  But therein lies the problem.

This is a film without a clear idea for whom it's intended.  The humorous scenes seem like they're geared toward a very young crowd, but the battles are so dark and violent that it might frighten those very same children.  To me it's just clumsy film making, but to a child it's a potential surprise nightmare around every corner.  Then us adults are left to deal with that horrible humor, and then marvel that there are really some interesting subtexts going on with the idea of the nature of story and opposing political systems.  It's very easy to read this film as a compare and contrast of democratic and national brands of socialism, which really gets off-putting when put next to a pellet barfing scene.

The film never takes off and has too many ingredients to really stew into something delicious.  It wants to be kid friendly like this years How To Train Your Dragon, but it also wants to delve into the darker territory of animation like the classic Watership Down.  But those tones are antithetical to one another, and it takes a hand much stronger than Zack Snyder's to really pull it off even though he tries and wrings some occasionally breathtaking excitement out of the film (I'd love to see him work with animation aain).  But ultimately LotG left my heart sad and confused, still waiting for the right moment to let my five year old self out to play.

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Legend of the Guardians (2010)

Directed by Zack Snyder.
Screenplay by John Orloff and Emil Stern.
Based on the  Guardians of Ga'Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky.
Featuring the voices of  Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten and Emily Barclay.

Posted by Andrew

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