Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2010

The owls deserve better

'Legend of the Guardians' is an unsuccessful trek into animation for Zack Snyder

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: John Orloff and Emil Stern, based on the novel series by Kathryn Lasky
Starring: The voices of Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, Emily Barclay, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Abbie Cornish and Sam Neill
Rated PG / 1 hour, 30 minutes
(out of four)

Animation is an under-utilized commodity. Not that there aren't enough animated movies - indeed, it sometimes feels like we're getting a new one every week - there just aren't enough good filmmakers who take advantage of it. Needless to say, it comes with an attached stigma that such films are "just for kids," but countless films have disproved that.

And so animation remains largely untapped. But I can't think of a single good, live-action filmmaker who I wouldn't love to see take a crack at it. There have been a few - Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Tim Burton (to an extent), James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis and George Miller, with Steven Spielberg set to join that group next year. It's such a rich format - isn't the idea of a full-length animated film by the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, or Quentin Tarantino, or Alfonso Cuarón, an intriguing thought?

Maybe the recent mini-flurry of children's literature adaptations, both animated and otherwise, by the likes of Spielberg, Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) and Martin Scorsese (next year's Hugo Cabret) is a step in the right direction. Maybe we'll even see a few more animation auteurs along the lines of Sylvain Chomet and Brad Bird.

I bring this up now because an established live-action filmmaker directed Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based on a series of novels by Kathryn Lasky. And while I have never been a fan of Zack Snyder's work, I was nonetheless intrigued when I discovered that the soon-to-be Superman helmer was behind this film. Going from Watchmen to a PG family-friendly animated film about owls is the kind of transition worth noting.

As for the result of his efforts, however, it must unfortunately be said . . . this movie is just for kids.

Now, there's no harm in being just for kids; but when animation can be so much more, seeing a film do so much less is a disappointment. I can't say I'm surprised that a Snyder film played down to its viewers; his past movies have pandered hopelessly to one audience or another, from Watchmen (obsessed Alan Moore fanboys) to 300 (professional wrestling fans).

With Legend of the Guardians, we get a simplistic tale that makes little to no effort to be anything but simplistic. We get an easy-to-read dynamic between two young brothers - one, Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), who is valiant and noble; and the other, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), weak-willed and mean-spirited and easily manipulated - who get kidnaped by a race of evil, slave-driving owls who call themselves the Noble Ones. The two brothers have to pick sides, one fighting against the forces of oppression with valor, the other choosing the easy route of assimilation.

Everything in this film happens on cue; there's precious little mystery as to who is going to do what, or show up when. From the old sage who councils our hero and, it is revealed, was once a great warrior (think Yoda) to the mythical Guardians themselves, who must gather to fight the forces of darkness (think the Jedi Council . . . yes, it's all a bit Star Wars-y), there's not a single surprise to be found.

In fact, the most surprising thing, at least for the first hour of the movie, was my realization that I hadn't seen much (if any) of that patented, annoying, pointless Zack Snyder Slo-Mo.

If only I'd been a bit more patient. Once he got the opportunity to do his thing - during the action-packed third act - the annoying, pointless Zack Snyder Slo-Mo was out in full force. Because as we all know, fight choreography is so much more dramatic when every move is slowed down.

Digression: A fun parody idea would be to create Snyder-style slo-mo shots in completely non-action scenarios - a couple having a Meet Cute at a laundromat; someone opening a refrigerator; a My Dinner with Andre remake; you name it. I'd pay to see that. End of digression.

The most impressive aspect of Legend of the Guardians is the level of detail that went into creating each owl. Few people in the audience are going to be experts on different breeds of owls, leaving open the potential for confusion between characters. But for the most part, that is not the case. Characters have definitive physical attributes - there are some genuinely lovely color schemes on display - and are mostly distinguishable from one another. Now, if the rest of the movie had been that distinctive, this movie may have risen above and beyond its target audience.

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