Love him or hate him (and there are many who hate him), there’s no denying that Zack Snyder’s got balls.

He broke into the mainstream by remaking one of history’s definitive zombie movies. He followed that up by adapting a slim graphic novel that was borderline self-parody in its depiction of Thermopylae. And then, of course, he adapted “the <em>Citizen Kane</em> of comics,” bringing to completion a project more than 20 years and at least three other directors in the making. He’ll be debuting <a href=”″>his first completely original movie</a> next March, which looks to be as spectacular as it is crazy. But in the meantime, Snyder has released another adaptation, this one being his first animated film as well as his first movie with a PG rating.

<em>Ga’Hoole </em>(damned if I’m typing out the full title), as per the Snyder standard, is visually sensational. Great attention is paid to colors and shadows and the 3D effects are very well-utilized. The CGI is surprisingly lifelike, aside from the obvious cartoonish facial liberties, and stunningly detailed. Snyder’s trademark “variable speed” approach to action is of course in full effect, but in a remarkable show of 3D competence, shaky-cam and quick-edits are almost completely absent. In fact, just as the slo-mo scenes of <em>Watchmen</em> and <em>300</em> looked like comic panels, the slo-mo shots of this movie look very much like a picture book. An <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>awesome, kick-ass</span> picture book.

The variable speed effect nicely serves the action, which is surprisingly well-done. The Guardians may talk and dress like Arthurian knights, but they move and fight like goddamn winged ninjas. Snyder made these owls into speedy and stealthy killing machines, which is just amazing to watch. It was a brilliant means of utilizing owls’ well-known reputation as silent predators.

In fact, a surprising amount of effort was made to portray the animals realistically. Some other cartoons would use birds’ wings as hands or fingers, but not here. Aside from the rubbery beaks, the anatomy of the owls is very lifelike. The only usable digits the owls have are on their claws, which leads to some very creative ways that claws are used to interact with machinery and such. This attention to anatomy extends to all the animals in the movie, even going so far as to give the echidna opposable thumbs!

Snyder clearly embraced the concept of an animated movie as a bottomless toolbox. His creativity here is unfettered and I’d love to see what he could do with an original animated story or even just a better animated story.

Oh, did I forget to mention? <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>The movie’s story SUCKS.</span>

The film’s storyline is filled with all manner of lazy writing hallmarks. Fortuitous deus ex machina rescues? By the dozen. Prophecies and stories that are completely made up as we go? Half the movie is driven by them. Cliche lines? I dare you to try and count them. Godawful comic relief? Just wait until you get a load of the unfunny Digger and Twilight (no, that’s a character’s name).

The characterization is terrible across the board. Every voice actor turns in an unremarkable performance and the characters are all invariably portrayed as either completely good or totally evil. For example, our story begins when protagonist Soren and his brother are kidnapped by a pair of owls, both of whom are practicing their “evil stare.” Folks, that is a direct quotation.

The two owlets are taken to the Pure Ones, who kidnap owlets and brainwash them into sorting through <a href=”″>owl pellets</a>. In these digested mice, they find magic flecks of metal that fuel a superweapon the Pure Ones are building. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the grand master plan of our villains.

Where… the FUCK… do I begin?

What is this metal? How is it being used as a weapon? How were these destructive properties first discovered? Where does it come from? Why are the local mice eating it? Why don’t the owls just go to the goddamn source and have these kids go mine the stuff? How is that brainwashing thing supposed to work? Perhaps most importantly, <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>what sick and twisted mind would conceive of such a disgusting plan, only to use it as the centerpiece for CHILDRENS’ ENTERTAINMENT?!<strong></strong></span>


Anyway, Soren and a new friend of his are smart enough to avoid the brainwashing, so they escape to go find the mythical Guardians of Ga’Hoole. Upon arrival, he finds a mentor who’s basically Obi-Wan Kenobi in all but name. Soren himself proves to be an even more idealistic and pure Luke Skywalker, right down to the thinly-veiled Death Star trench run he gets during the climax. There’s even a version of The Force in play, with the owls’ gizzards working as their midi-chlorians.

Side note: The Guardians have a blacksmith named Bubo among their ranks. <a href=””>Ha ha.</a>

I could list dozens of cliched moments and one-dimensional characters in this movie, but I feel that I really only have to point to Kludd. Truly, Soren’s brother is emblematic of all the bad writing and piss-poor characterization in this film. When we first meet Kludd, he’s whining about Soren’s hero-worship of the Guardians and sneering at his faith in dreams. Naturally, he turns evil at the first opportunity and grows to be more and more of a bastard until the climax. At that point, Kludd gives a big speech about how might is right, honor is weakness, the Guardians are done and blah, blah, blah. Not five seconds later, he’s hanging over a fiery precipice with a broken wing, begging for Soren’s help.

I’ll give you exactly one guess as to what Soren does. You get another for how Kludd repays him.

Put simply, <em>Ga’Hoole</em> is a visually stunning movie that wastes all of its creativity and talent on a godawful story. It’s like this year’s <em>Avatar</em>. Fortunately, as a kids’ movie, it’s really not so bad. Aside from the fact that its story is quite literally about shit, the action is fast and engaging without ever being bloody or traumatizing. That’s kind of ironic, considering the movie’s central theme of “war is hell,” but there you go. Kids who haven’t gotten to see <em>Star Wars</em> yet will have a blast while their parents and older siblings will identify the better movies that this one cribs from.

Still, it’s far-and-away better than a kids’ movie that makes older audience members wish for lobotomies. This movie ran with trailers for <a href=””><em>Yogi Bear</em></a>, <a href=””><em>The Smurfs</em></a> and <a href=”″><em>The Nutcracker 3D</em></a>. Personally, I would sit through <em>Ga’Hoole</em> another three times straight than watch any of those trailers or their movies just once.