‘Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole’ has limited appeal, but great 3-D work

Posted: September 23, 2010

Zack Snyder's new animated movie isn't a box office threat to "Toy Story 3," but it does re-establish the idea that good-looking 3-D is possible.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" - and how's that for an off-putting title - is like a tween-oriented version of Snyder's "300," a combat-driven story of freedom-loving individuals fighting off the invasive forces of totalitarian domination.

It will appeal to the very small subset of fantasy-minded kids (boys especially) who'll get off on the spectacle of armored owls ripping each other's feathers off, but its wall-to-wall nocturnal combat is probably way too peculiar for general audiences.

That makes it a tough sell for the studio, which is a bit of a shame, because the movie could help restore consumer confidence in 3-D technology.

"Guardians" isn't the sort of crummy, postproduction 3-D conversion movie that has alienated audiences and caused consumer revolt at the premium prices charged for it. It's the real deal, carefully wrought by Snyder and Animal Logic studios so that every shot was conceived with 3-D in mind. The finished product is further evidence that soup-to-nuts 3-D (like "Avatar") will beat conversion almost every time.

"Guardian" is a fine-looking movie, fully of movement and action, none of it marred by the herky-jerky flickering common to bad 3-D. And a good thing, too, since so much of the movie is given over to battle.

Snyder adapts the story from Kathryn Lasky's fantasy-book series, a chronicle of a brave young owl named Soren who rallies the free creatures to combat the rising threat of an owl dictatorship.

The movie is noteworthy for its somber palette and candid depiction of a carnivore's life. One of the movie's first images is a fluffy mouse perched happily on a tree branch, where it sits for just a second before an owl swoops down and snaps it up with leather talons, carrying it off to be eaten by owlets.

Disney-Pixar it ain't, and the dark tone extends to the story. Soren, for instance, has a bitter falling out with his brother, and we wait for a reconciliation that never comes - the relationship only gets more heated, nasty and irreparable. Their ultimate confrontation is violent and angry but just vague enough to leave room for a sequel. Whether audiences turn out to support this strange franchise is another question.

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