Review: Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole

(PG) ****

Director: Zack Snyder.

Cast: (voices of) Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Barclay, Anthony LaPaglia, David Wenham, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Joel Edgerton.

IT'S one of the more unlikely films to pop up in recent times - a slightly dark yet mostly family-friendly CG blockbuster, voiced by Aussies and starring a bunch of mythical, arse-kicking owls. And it's directed by the guy who made Watchmen and 300. Huh?

There's a lot going on here due to the complex mythology that stems from Kathryn Lesky's books and some things are explained and some things are not. But what matters is the powerful story and age-old solid themes about believing in your dreams, doing what's right and never giving up.

Soren (voiced by Sturgess) is a young barn owl enamoured by the stories of The Guardians, a legendary group of owl warriors that saved the day long ago by defeating The Pure Ones, a group of owls with some disturbingly Nazi-esque leanings.

The Guardians might have retreated to their mystical hideaway but The Pure Ones aren't so far away. They capture Soren and his brother Kludd (Kwanten) as part of a plan to rebuild their army and take over the Owl Kingdoms, but Soren escapes and sets off to find The Guardians.

This rich mythology and the use of anthropomorphic owls are part of what gives Legend Of The Guardians its edge - despite its classic 'hero's journey' approach, it feels fresh because we've never seen it through the eyes of a barn owl before.

And these owls look amazing. While every CG film is expected to look a billion dollars thanks to Pixar's bar-raising, this is genuinely impressive thanks to a hyper-realistic look (and full credit to the animators for managing to elicit visible emotions from creatures with no lips or eyebrows).

The visual splendour culminates in the aerial battle scenes, where Snyder's slow-motion-fight fetish allows the CG to truly dazzle.

The voice acting is consistently strong and the cast seemingly features every Australian actor alive today (and a couple of Poms), although some (notably Rush) handle the occasional dud lines better than others.

There are some pretty intense moments, as expected by a film that features battle scenes and a plot involving a Master Race's attempts to rule the world.

Far from perfectly paced (and it's impossible to tell the diference between hours, days or weeks in the film), as well as struggling to balance its overt seriousness and desperate attempts at comic relief, Legends Of The Guardians is nonetheless an excellent adventure that comes with plenty of heart, spectacle and that welcome darker edge that helps make a family movie great.

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