A less charitable critic might be inclined to describe the new film "Legend of the Guardians," as “Lord of the Rings with Owls” and leave it at that.
Certainly there are plenty of similarities between the new film and the Tolkien trilogy that graced movie screens a few years back. Both involve a struggle between good and evil with the future of civilization hanging in the balance. Both feature epic journeys and epic battles. And in both, the fate of the world is in the hands of unlikely diminutive heroes.
Yet whatever "Legend of the Guardians" lacks in originality, it more than makes up through strong writing, stunning visuals and spirited performances from the actors who voice the animated characters.
"Legend of the Guardians" is based on Guardians of Ga’Hoole, the popular series of books by Kathryn Lasky. It was brought to the screen by director Zack Snyder, best known for gorier adult action flicks, like "Dawn of the Dead," "Watchman" and "300."
In this latest film, designed with younger viewers in mind, Snyder presents the journey of Soren, a young, idealistic owl who – along with his brother Kludd – is kidnapped and forced to join the Pure Ones, an evil army intent on taking over the owl world. While Kludd is seduced by the glamour of power wielded by his captors, Soren resists and eventually escapes. After gathering a band of equally unlikely heroes, Soren and company set off on a dangerous journey in search of the Guardians, a legendary army of owl warriors whose very existence is in question.
Needless to say, the Guardians do, indeed, exist and Soren’s gang eventually finds them and informs them of the plans being hatched by their evil counterparts. With the stage for an epic showdown set, Soren begins training to become a Guardian himself.
When the time comes for the final battle, Soren and his friends are told to stay behind and allow the seasoned warriors to lead the charge. Naturally, they ignore this order and eventually join the fight. Soren is then forced to face not only Metalbeak, the evil leader of the Pure Ones, but also his own brother Kludd.
"Legend of the Guardians" is shot in glorious 3-D and some of the scenes are downright vertigo-inducing. Although the film does feature some violence, it’s rarely of the gory variety. Most kids over the age of, say, 8, will find the action more exhilarating than terrifying. And the brisk 90-minute running time should hold the attention of all but the squirmiest of children. However, younger kids may find the storyline and character accents (Australian and British mostly) a bit tough to follow.
"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole" is rated PG.