I've said in previous reviews that Zach Snyder's movies are often hit or miss, but his visual style is absolutely gorgeous to behold. That said, Snyder's animation debut was pretty exciting news. I finally got around to seeing Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010), and I think it somehow managed to be both hit and miss.
Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl who is enthralled by the epic stories his father (Hugo Weaving) tells him of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who fought a great battle to save owlkind from the evil Pure Ones. While Soren dreams of joining his heroes one day, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) scoffs at the notion. Kludd yearns to hunt, learn to fly, and earn his father's favor from his younger sibling. Kludd's eagerness causes both of the young owlets to fall from their treetop home and into the talons of The Pure Ones. The two discover the evil plot to abduct fledgling owls and raise them to become an army with which to conquer all of owlkind. Soren manages to escape with a few allies; Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Digger (David Wenham), and Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia). Together they set off to find the legendary heroes, the Warriors of Ga'Hoole to warn them of The Pure One's evil plot.
Zack Snyder's visually intense directing made Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole absolutely gorgeous to look at. Unlike most CGI animated movies which aim for a cartoony sort of look, The Owls of Ga'Hoole strived for a photorealistic art style. It was stunning! You could actually see the individual feathers on the owls fluttering in the wind, getting ruffled up during action scenes, and take on a different texture when they got wet. It is very difficult to animate hair and fur; a whole new program was created just to get Merida's hair to look right in Pixar's Brave. There are so many feathered characters in The Owls of Ga'Hoole that it each scene must have taken ages to animate and look as good as they do in the movie. The photorealism extends to the sets and scenery, too. You could pause the movie at any time and the resulting still shot would look picturesque enough to frame and hang on the wall.
It came as no surprise to me that Zach Snyder's signature use of spontaneous moments of slow motion during action. He did this a lot in 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. It's still a neat visual effect, and thankfully we don't get swamped with it. There were moments where I didn't understand why the slow motion effect was used, the scene didn't seem to justify using it. But there were other scenes such as when Soren was trying to fly through a rainstorm and tries to focus; everything slows down for a moment including the thousands of raindrops all around him. That looked really cool.
I only mentioned a few of the voice actors who appear in The Owls of Ga'Hoole above. Others include big name actors such as Joel Edgerton, Sam Neill, Helen Mirren, Abbie Cornish, and Geoffrey Rush. There's nearly an all-star cast and they do great! The voice acting is spectacular. Hugo Weaving actually voices two characters, but it's done so well you'd hardly know they were the same actor.
The downside to The Owls of Ga'Hoole is the weak plot. The movie is based on Kathryn Lasky's book series and the movie received a lot of negative comments about the modified story. I haven't even heard of the books so I can't comment there, but it made fans of the books upset enough to mention it here. The story ended up being very predictable and vague on details. The Pure Ones have some sort of magic metal "flecks" that they get from owl pellets (a mass of undigested parts of a birds food that some bird species occasionally regurgittaes). How that is magic and why that paralyzes enemies was totally lost to me. The characters were simple and predictable. So much of this movie has been done in dozens of other children's adventure movies that literally nothing surprises you in the least.
For being Zach Snyder's first animated feature, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole was not a bad attempt at an animated movie. The photorealistic animation was stellar to say the least, and the camera work was fantastic! The story and characters were so predictable that it's safe to say you've already seen this movies several times before, unless you're an 8-year-old. The movie seemed to try to go for a hard core edge while still being kid-friendly. This wouldn't be a bad family movie; the animation will likely captivate adult audiences while the simple characters and story are easy enough for younger kids to keep up with. Overall, I think I would have been just fine if I hadn't seen the movie at all. I don't think it's worth the money to purchase unless you truly value the impressive animation or have young kids who would enjoy an animated action movie.
Is there a director who has only done live action movies whom you'd love to see make an animated feature? I think a Quentin Tarantino movie would be crazy! Comment below and tell me who you'd like to see direct an animated feature!