New on DVD/Blu-ray: Legend of the Guardians — The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)

When you think Zack Snyder, you think cuddly, talking owls. Okay, so maybe you don’t think that. Like, at all. This is, after all, the man who gave us ultra-violent fare like “300”, “Watchmen”, and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Zack Snyder is not exactly known for his inner child, though he is known for embracing his inner fanboy, so in that respect the high-flying adventures of talking owls sorta makes sense. Snyder’s surprising foray into PG-rated moviemaking, the CG children’s adventure “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” flies onto Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand and for Download from Warner Home Video on December 17, 2010.

Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) makes his animation debut with this fantasy adventure based on the beloved books. Young owl Soren marvels at tales of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, mythic winged warriors who battled to save all owl kind from the evil Pure Ones. When he and brother Kludd fall into the talons of the Pure Ones, it?s up to Soren to make a daring escape with the help of other brave owls and seek out the Great Tree, home of the Guardians. The stellar voice cast includes Abbie Cornish, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving.

Movie Review:

Talking, fighting, and armor-wearing owls? Yup. Based on the series of young adult fantasy novels “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” by Kathryn Lasky, Snyder’s “Legend of the Guardians” is a CG movie that follows Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), a young owl dreamer who grows up hearing about the legendary Guardians, a group of “knight” owls that watch over the owl kingdom, and who may or may not actually exist. Though his father (Hugo Weaving) insists they are real, Soren’s brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) isn’t so sure.

The story gets interesting when the bickering siblings go out on a night of “branching” and end up falling to the forest floor beneath them, a place where no owl should be, especially ones that haven’t quite gotten their wings under them yet. Quickly, though, dangerous looking owls swoop down from the skies and abduct the brothers, and soon Soren, Kludd, and the spirited Gylfie (Emily Barclay) are being taken to the secret hideout of Aryan Nation-type owls calling themselves The Pure Ones.

Joel Edgerton stars as the devilish sounding (and looking) Metalbeak and Helen Mirren is his aristocratic partner Nyra; they are leaders of the Pure Ones, owls that believe they are the rightful heirs of the owl kingdom, being purer than the rest and such. Their ultimate plan is to overthrow the Guardians, who are very much real, and assume dominance over the owl kingdom. Opposing them are Richard Roxburgh as Boron, the leader of the Guardians, and Sam Neill as the doubting Allomere. The Guardians aren’t alone in their fight for right and just; they get plenty of assist from Soren and his band of buddies, including Anthony LaPaglia as the self-proclaimed poet Twilight and David Wenham as the twitchy Digger. But Soren also has to deal with his wayward brother Kludd, who has gone to the “dark side” and who has sold their little sister Eglantine into enslavement.

As a children’s movie, “Legend of the Guardians” is something of a mixed bag. There are plenty of charming, kid-friendly moments, especially early in the film. Even after the brothers get abducted, the bad guys come across more as a rowdy bunch of misfits than evil Bond villains. Then again, Metalbeak and Nyra are pretty tough customers, and soon the joking underlings disappear altogether and are replaced by pure evil owls intent on brainwashing and enslaving their fellow owls. These aren’t exactly the cuddly, take home to momma type.

“Legend” may be CG, but that doesn’t mean director Zack Snyder has dumped all his bag of visual tricks. Who knew you could do slow motion even with CG owls? And despite the PG-rating, the film has plenty of violence that may be a bit much for some younger viewers, so parents should take care. The owls have essentially one method of attack, and that’s with claws armored up with very sharp Freddy Krueger-like talons that they slash violently at each other. The bats are even armed with some kind of sword-like razors. Mind you, not that people/owls are dying left and right, but it can get pretty intense, especially towards the end.

“Legend of the Guardians” is an interesting, if something of a sideways addition to Zack Snyder’s filmography. Kids should find plenty to like from the adventures of Soren and friends, and adults will probably enjoy themselves, too.

Blu-ray Combo Pack Review:

The Blu-ray picture quality is simply stunning. I have to admit, if there is one genre to watch on Blu-ray, it has to be CG movies. There is absolutely no distortion in picture quality whatsoever, and if you thought seeing it on the big screen was great, try watching it with optimal picture quality on a pristine Blu-ray print. Let me say it again: CG movies were made for Blu-rays.

Other Special Features:

  • Artworks Gallery featuring concept art for characters and locations from the movie
  • A full-length music video for the film’s theme song, “To the Sky” by Owl City
  • “True Guardians of the Earth”: Owl Digger (David Wenham) and child actor Rico Rodriguez hosts a 15-minute doc/PSA on real-life owls of the world. Your kids might like it. Adults will be bored.
  • “Maximum Kid Mode”: The movie all over again, except this time the cast (as their characters) pop up with mini-featurettes on all aspects of the making of the film. It’s geared towards kids, hence the “Kid mode” title, but still worthwhile for those interested in behind-the-scenes stuff.
  • Mini Interactive Games: Play dress-up with Soren and Eglantine if you can and play match-up with the owls and their treats.
  • “Rise of the Guardians”: A longer version of Noctus’ enslavement at the hands of the Pure Ones, which leads to the Guardians’ first battle with the Pure Ones. It’s like “300”, but with owls. Don’t get too excited, though, it’s only two minutes long.
  • Bonus Looney Tunes short with the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Buy “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” on DVD or Blu-ray from Warner Home Video on December 17, 2010.