After stewing in my own dizzying thoughts about The Social Network for most of the weekend, I was in need of a good mental palette cleanser. And it turns out I could've done a lot worse than Zack Snyder's debut animation Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.
The story is nothing we haven't seen before. Just take your favourite Arthurian legend and add owls. Narratively, the film doesn't strive for much. The characters aren't written that thoroughly, especially the bad guys who don't seem to have any real motives besides being evil for the sake of being evil. There's not much thematic meat the chew on. The film touches momentarily on the idea of disillusionment and that war isn't as glorious in real life as it seems in stories (no duh), but that only comes off as unintentionally hypocritical when our young hero has to save the day by violent means and proceeds to regale impressionable owlets with romanticized stories about it. And it's full of logic holes, like, why would these guardians choose to locate their HQ as far removed as possible from the land they're supposed to protect? And why are these owls cruising at altitudes higher than any real owl would fly? Not that you should intend to take this movie all that seriously. As one character astutely states, “...such a story stretches plausibility beyond reason”. My sentiments exactly.
It would be all too easy to write this film off if it weren't for one thing: it is damn gorgeous! I daresay the most aesthetically beautiful film I'll see all year. This is the second feature film from the Australia-based animation studio / visual effects production company Animal Logic (their first being Happy Feet in 2006), and it is a HUGE technical advancement. The photorealism of the effects animation is dazzling every detail, from the hair-raising grandeur of the matte paintings to the immaculate minutia of each individual feather on the owls' heads, which are forced to interact with wind, ash, and in one particularly breath-taking sequence, torrential rain. Snyder's trademark ultra-slow motion shots are actually a very nice fit, allowing us to properly appreciate the incredible effects work which frankly deserves an Oscar nomination.
I doubt we'll see it though. The VFX branch has it in for animated movies. Although, Ratatouille did make the shortlist a few years ago... hmmm. Maybe animated feature? It would need five slots to get in, but it could happen.
**1/2 out of ****