Based on the first three installments in a 15-book series, the animated action-adventure Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole rushes through a series of incidents that could probably each be expanded into its own 90-minute movie, and feels less like an epic fantasy than a compilation of TV episodes. Even if the plotting is hurried and the dialogue is flat, though, the movie has a lush, detailed look that at least partially makes up for its shortcomings. Director Zack Snyder brought a distinctive visual style to his live-action movies 300 and Watchmen, and with his heavy reliance on special effects, animation seems like a logical progression for him. He tones down the penchant for graphic violence found in his earlier work, but retains trademarks like an abundance of slow motion and a fondness for large-scale battle sequences.
The violence here might actually be a little too sanitized, although it’s a PG-rated film that’s meant to be appropriate for kids. But an epic battle between good and evil shouldn’t pull this many punches (or claws, as the case may be—the main characters are all owls). As it is, Legend’s story of a young owl who tracks down the supposedly mythical Guardians of the title is a little bland, without the overblown scope it should have as a fantasy quest narrative, even one that features only talking animals. Wide-eyed young owl Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) gets kidnapped by an evil army, escapes, finds the Guardians and returns to battle his captors, all in under 90 minutes, and the impact is minimal. Every detail of his feathers (and those of the other owls) is impeccably rendered, though, and looks pretty cool in 3D. For the inevitable sequel, slowing down and paying the same amount of attention to storytelling might help.