While the snowy white owl beckons families to this 3-D animated adventure, it’s far more dark and violent than you might imagine – and it may terrify the very young.
The story follows Soren (Jim Sturgess), a young owl entranced by his father’s tales of the mythic Guardians of Ga’Hool, noble warriors who protect owls from the evil Pure Ones. But his jealous older brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), is only interested in learning to fly and hunt, causing them to fall from their treetop hollow and into the talons of the Pure Ones. Deposited into an orphanage run by helmeted Metal Beak (Sam Neill) and Nyra (Helen Mirren), the enslaved outlets are “moon-blinked” to lose all sense of self and will. Soren resists and is forced to pick apart pellets for mysterious magnetic particles called “flecks” – until he manages to escape with Gylfie (Emily Barclay), a barn owl. En route to seek help in the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, they join up with Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia), a singing grey owl; Digger (David Wenham), who tells owl jokes; and Mrs. Plithiver (Miriam Margolyes), Soren’s nursemaid snake. At the Great Tree, they meet Ezlryb (Geoffrey Rush), an old screech owl who becomes Soren’s mentor. In the meantime, Soren’s little sister Eglantine (Emilie de Ravin) is kidnapped and held hostage as the predatory Pure Ones prepare for battle against the unsuspecting Guardians.
Working from a screenplay by Emil Stern and John Orloff, based on Kathryn Lasky’s children’s books, Zack Snyder – known for his penchant for carnage in “Watchmen” and “300” – makes his animation directing debut. Peppered with British names and Australian allusions unfamiliar to Americans, the good-vanquishes-evil plot is incredibly confusing and the excessive violence seems quite inappropriate for a family audience.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is a savage, scary 6. Give credit for the awesome animation to Animal Logic (“Happy Feet”), and 3-D adds more than just another dimension, immersing the audience in the fantasy world.