Style over substance in 'Guardians'

Article Published: Sep. 30, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Style over substance in 'Guardians'

Geoffrey Rush, Richard Roxburgh and Anthony LaPaglia lend their voices to 'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.'

With top-notch, high-flying animation, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a visual spectacle, but elementary storytelling keeps this fantasy from ever truly taking off.

Despite a capable cast and, again, some of the best computer animation to grace the silver screen, Owls struggles with its identity, playing the family card in one hand and surprisingly dark fantasy in the other. But family trumps fantasy, as director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) keeps the story so plain and simple - with dialogue to match - that it clashes with the emotion he attempts to convey.
The result seems like a hackneyed Lord of the Rings with talking animals.

Adapted from Kathryn Laskey's "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" novels, which I'd admittedly never heard of until watching the film's credits, Guardians is the story of Soren (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe), a young owl with his head in the clouds, only not literally.

He revels in stories of the legendary Guardians, a fabled army of owls that defended the realm from the cruel and tyrannical Pure Ones. Eager to spread his wings, Soren and brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten, HBO's True Blood) sneak out of their hollow to practice flying, but wind up in the clutches of the Pure Ones.

Turns out Soren, Kludd and countless other owlets, including the plucky Gylfie (Emily Barclay, In My Father's Den), are being kidnapped for slave labor, as the Pure Ones attempt to build a weapon that could effectively ground the Guardians.

Soren and Gylfie escape, but Kludd's sudden case of Stockholm Syndrome compels him to remain with his captors - including ruler Metalbeak (Joel Edgarton, Star Wars: Episode II ) and his wife, Nyra (Helen Mirren, The Queen) - and do their evil bidding.

Seeking the Guardians, Soren and Gylfie encounter some friends along the way - a jolly, lute-toting Renaissance owl called Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia, So I Married an Axe Murderer), his loopy companion, Digger (David Wenhem, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) and Soren's nanny, a snake by the name of Mrs. P (Miriam Margolyes, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).
Together, they embark on a journey to find the Guardians, including legendary warrior Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), and rescue their captive brethren.

Expect obligatory self-discovery, shenanigans and some slapstick along the way, along with betrayal, attempted fratricide and death by talon.

It's a strangely mixed bag that never quite realizes its audience, toting credits "from the studio that brought you Happy Feet" and the fellow who brought you the blood-drenched 300.

Uninspired dialogue and Guardians's simple story seem to clash with Snyder's vision, and the result is just uncomfortable. The cast, for the most part, gives it their best. As Soren, Sturgess does his best Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) impression, with Soren's animators even seeming to copy Wood's facial expressions from the landmark fantasy trilogy.

Wenham's amusing as the batty Digger, spouting plenty of chuckle-worthy non sequitur nonsense, and Margolyes is endearing as Mrs. P, the most amiable snake to slither on screen since Sir Hiss in Disney's Robin Hood.

But particular praise goes to the always exceptional Rush, who delivers a surprisingly human performance for an animated character. It's hardly a memorable character, but Rush, at least, makes you want to remember.

And the same could be said for Guardians as a whole. Despite the mundane story, its visual craftsmanship keeps your eyes glued to what, essentially, is nothing more than a flight of fancy.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole , rated PG for some sequences of scary action, is playing in 3-D at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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