Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole may not have the smoothest title in the world, but it’s absolutely the greatest movie about talking owls in metal helmets that I’ve ever seen. What, you thought I was making some joke about Legend Of The Guardians being the only movie about talking owls in metal helmets that I’ve ever seen? Have you ever heard of a little movie called Steel Magnolias?
What’s that? Steel Magnolias doesn’t have talking owls in metal helmets? Oh. Well… Maybe I would’ve watched it all the way through if it had! Julia Roberts my ass, show me something I haven’t seen before in movies. Show me talking owls going to war. Fill that void, Hollywood. Well, I have now seen the entirety of Legend Of The Guardians, and here is my report:
Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole, or “LOTG: TOOG” as I like to call it, is about a bunch of owls who have the ability of speech. Actually, outside of mice, bats, an echidna, a snake, and various assorted insects, there aren’t any other species to be seen, and only the echidna and the snake speak, so this may be taking place in some alternate universe where humanity does not exist and only owls, echidnae, and snakes have the ability to speak. How random is that? That’s just one of many existential questions that LOTG: TOOG raises in my mind, but I’ll try to hold off on those. The point is, without humanity to keep the peace, the owls live in a state of constant owl warfare.
The evil owls are led by a nasty-spirited little guy named Metalbeak (voice of Joel Edgerton), who is named that way because his real beak was lost in a vicious battle and so he wears a sharp metal recreation as a replacement. He kind of looks like the ultimate bad guy from Lord Of The Rings, so it was clearly a cosmetic choice designed for intimidation. This made me wonder about primitive owl attempts at plastic surgery, but that’s also a question for another time. I’m doing story recap here. Anyway, the evil owls have a nefarious plan to bolster their ranks with innocent owl youth. (A smarter critic might note the uncomfortable allusion to World-War-Two-era Germany, but I am not one of those. I’m the guy who loves owl movies.)
That recruitment effort, led by the charismatic Nyra (voice of Helen Mirren), is what brings the young and impressionable owl brothers Soren and Kludd (voices of Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten, respectively) under the shady wing of Metalbeak. Soren is the younger brother, but the more intrepid and independent-thinking of the two, and so he realizes that they’re being misled into darkness. Soren escapes, and stumbles into an unlikely but heroic group of misfits who help him on his quest: To locate the long-lost heroes of owl myth, The Guardians Of Ga’Hoole, the badass peace-keeping owls who can end the cruel reign of Metalbeak.
You’re probably not too impressed that I managed to recount all of that plot action, but you should be. Keep in mind that all of the exposition in this movie is delivered by owls. It can be hard to follow at times. I saw it with my three-year-old niece. She thought it was a little too scary at parts, which I can understand – these owls are really going at it something fierce. My problem was more of identification – meaning, a lot of the owls look similar at key moments. There’s only so much differentiation of color in feather patches that CG artists can do before it all starts to blur together. But you didn’t click on this review to hear about technical quibbles. You want answers to the big questions: Do they deal with the pellet issue?
The answer is yes, this movie absolutely does cover owl pellets. There is absolutely a scene where an owlet barfs up owl pellets. The movie is fairly bloodless – a mouse is scooped up but then freed – but the dialogue doesn’t skimp on explaining how that pellet came into being. (Owls catch and eat mice, kids.) I feel like the movie would have been dishonest if there weren’t a couple pellets in there somewhere, so I give it a lot of credit.
But, disappointingly, there wasn’t a single scene where the owls spin their heads around.
So you can only really call the movie half a success. I’ll take it though. It’s not as if you can say that Legend Of The Guardians, which was based on a series of books by Kathryn Lasky and adapted to screen by Watchmen’s Zack Snyder and several valiant writers, is imitating any other owl movie of the past ten years. There’s not a lot of competition in the owl warfare genre right now. And yeah, I sure did refer to the writers of this movie (John Orloff & Emil Stern) as “valiant” – or maybe you think you could easily tackle the job of writing dialogue for talking owls in metal helmets. I don’t envy them. Personally, I’m not sure I could have made a filmable movie out of the premise of talking owls – personally, I know I would have gone off on too many tangents.
So for me, I hope there’s a sequel, because they left a lot of important questions unanswered with this one. Such as: The owls wear helmets. How do the owls know how to make helmets? Have they learned how to harness fire? And if so, why don’t they invent swords or guns? They can make a metal grille for their evil owl leader, so what’s stopping them from forging little metal swords? And on another topic entirely: Why do all of the owls have British and Australian accents? Does this movie take place around the time that the British were beginning to colonize Australia? Is this the first-ever (to my knowledge, anyway) talking-owl period piece? Is it all a metaphor for industrialization and/or imperialism? And if they can show owl pellets, why can’t they show a scene where the owls’ heads spin around? Is that really, in the end, too much to ask?