The Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole Blu-ray review

Zack Snyder turns his talents to family-friendly animation in the fantasy owl epic, The Legend Of The Guardians. Here’s Glen’s Blu-ray review...

Back before the critical and commercial problems of Sucker Punch and the barrage of news about  Man Of Steel, there was a degree of optimism in some quarters about Zack Snyder and his brand of filmmaking that seems to be lacking in the wake of his current release. Just a few months prior to the release of Sucker Punch, at the tail end of the summer of 2010, The Legend of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole was released and this  ornithological adventure represented the director’s first foray into both feature length animation and a film not carrying an R certificate.

Based on Kathryn Lasky’s series of novels, Warner Brothers had acquired the rights back in 2005. Snyder came on board in 2008, and got the project to the screen, with Happy Feet creators, Animal Logic, handling the animation side of things.

The film follows the adventures of a young barn owl named Soren who belongs to the Tyto clan, who, along with his brother Kludd, is abducted and taken far away from home to the sinister St. Aggie’s, where the two siblings, along with numerous other young owls, are held and put to work either as pickers or soldiers.

Tyto owls are coveted for their strength and predisposition for being great warriors, but Soren soon makes a stand by protecting a smaller breed of owl named Gylfie from being resigned to the fate of becoming a picker, whilst his brother disowns him, to take the opportunity to become a soldier.

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It soon transpires that the pickers are being brainwashed and Soren and Gylfie need to escape, but are unable to fly. Fortunately, an elder owl sick of the St. Aggie’s regime takes them under his wing and teaches them how to fly. Soon the pair escape their captors in search of the Guardians, a legendary tribe of owls who are the stuff of myth and whose stories captivated Soren as a youngster. Along the way they meet up with various other characters that all join in on the journey and set out to put a stop to the owls of St. Aggie’s.

The sibling rivalry between Soren and Klodd is the most interesting aspect of the narrative, Set up from the first scene, it’s this conflict that sets both characters on their chosen paths and provides the foundations for a high stakes showdown. It’s a shame, then, that I didn’t feel that this aspect really paid off all that successfully, and as such, was something of an anticlimax.

There are times when there seems to be a lack of focus when it comes to the story. Tonally, there are huge shifts, as the film really does go to some quite dark places that will, no doubt, upset younger viewers, and then there are moments of broad wacky comedy. These extremes in tone never seem to sit quite right and affect the narrative flow of the film.

I suppose that parallels could be drawn between this film and Sucker Punch, given that there would have been a degree of crossover between the productions. Both feature a young protagonist trapped in an institution, looking to escape and search for a fantasy, and both are visually very strong, indeed.

This really is one of the best looking animated features I’ve seen for some time, with the character design on the owls looking incredibly lifelike at times. Animal Logic really show off the full extent of its talents during extended flight sequences through adverse weather conditions, as every feather is effected in some way by snow, wind and rain. There’s an over reliance on slo-mo sequences, which become tiresome after the first act. So, by the end of the film, you can predict the exact moments when Snyder will chose to trigger his favourite trick.

The film has an excellent voice cast with the likes of Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Sam Neill, Helen Mirren, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush and Joel Edgerton, to name but a few. They all do a great job of giving each character a distinct feel and identity, which is tricky, given that it can be hard to keep up with who’s who, due to the rather eccentric collection of names. Some of the dialogue they have to deliver is a little ridiculous, but they’re so committed to their characters that this doesn’t really become a problem in the same way as the narrative shortcomings of the film.

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Despite its faults, The Legend Of The Guardians is an entertaining animated feature showcasing some stunning visuals, with an engrossing finale that covers up some of the film’s shortcomings in the first two thirds.

As mentioned earlier, certain moments may be a bit much for younger audience members, so it may be wise to proceed with caution. But it’s the kind of film that caters well for both kids and adults and, as such, is one that I have no problem recommending.

The Disc

This being the Blu-ray release, of course, one of the major factors will be does the transfer justify the upgrade over DVD? The short answer is yes. The transfer of both picture and sound is near flawless and up there with the best that I’ve experienced on the format by quite some distance. Experiencing the film in HD allows you to appreciate what a beautiful film this is and how much attention has gone into the character designs. From a visual perspective, this really is demo quality stuff.

The sound is as good as the picture, with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix making everything come through crystal clear. There’s always a lot going on with regards to background noise and effects, but the dialogue is always the priority and this never takes a back seat. This is refreshing, given the recent tendency for dialogue suffering at the expense of other audio elements.

The extras, sadly, don’t match the standard of the sound or visuals, with the majority of the extras being quite superficial and failing to provide a real glimpse into the actual ‘making of’ process, Instead, there are a number of interactive features aimed at younger viewers, as well as a rather interesting look at owls in the world and the dangers they face. There’s an entertaining Loony Tunes Short Fur Of Flying and the rather awful Owl City music video, as well.

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Despite there being little to draw you in with regards to the extras, the film itself and the high quality transfer offer more than enough to make this worth a look.


3 stars

The Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


1 out of 5