In Nazareth Jesus stood before the synagogue and announced, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
He was quoting from a passage of the prophet Isaiah’s book, chapter 61, where it also reads, “Comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve … for I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.”
This proclamation of the duties of virtue also echoes through the creed of the Guardians in the visually stunning masterpiece of 3-D animation, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”
The heroes of this epic fantasy are a band of myth-shrouded owls, warrior birds with armor and razor-tipped talons, who fly beneath a banner reminiscent of Isaiah’s words: “Mend the broken, make strong the weak, vanquish the evil.”
Not just a children’s film about talking owls, “Guardians” is an adventure tale of war and valor that any adult can appreciate if only for the spectacle of gorgeous scenery, realistic motion and jaw-dropping detail drawn in living colors that captivate the eye and stir the soul. While many films today are shot in 2-D, then woefully translated into 3-D, “Guardians” shows off what 3-D can achieve, what it was meant to be, creating a fantasy world as vivid as “Avatar” – and maybe even beyond.
The story itself, alas, doesn’t quite match the animation’s depth, and there are some unexplained gaps that are probably filled in the book the film is based upon, but will leave moviegoers wishing the writers of “Guardians” were as talented as the animators.
Nonetheless, there are some intriguing messages in the film – including the creed of noble heroism listed above – that make watching “Guardians” more than just an exercise in art appreciation.
The protagonist is a young, male Tyto owl named Soren, who dreams of the stories his father tells him of the mythical and heroic “Guardians,” warriors who defend the weak, particularly against the evil Metalbeak.
But when Metalbeak’s minions kidnap Soren and his skeptical brother, Kludd, the young owls suddenly find myth becoming reality, and Soren must decide whether he will stay with his brother or seek out in faith the Guardians, in hope that they, too, are real and can save the owls from Metalbeak’s plans of domination.
The story, though rather simple and cliché among fantasy tales, nonetheless presents a few intriguing layers.
For example, Metalbeak preaches that “the strong must rule the weak,” and that the Tytos – the “pure ones” – are destined by bloodline to rule over the other, lesser owls.
“Weakness is for the lower species, never for us,” Metalbeak says. “As lower species, their destiny is to fill lower roles. … Honor is another word for weakness.”
His species-superiority complex, social Darwinism and concentration-camp methods come screaming off the pages of a 1940s history book. Indeed, Metalbeak is merely a swastika and mustache short of being Hitler all over again. In that paradigm, his wife, Nyra, demonstrates brainwashing a la the Hitler Youth – er, Metalbeak owlets – as a birdlike Joseph Goebbels.
So clear are the World War II parallels in “Guardians,” in fact, that in the other owls I discerned one that reminded me of Neville Chamberlain and another that was unmistakably like Winston Churchill (I won’t spoil it by saying who, but leave moviegoers to see if they spot the same similarities).
“Guardians” won’t win Oscars (except for its animation), but from a worldview perspective, it deserves praise for consistently extolling virtue, honor and valor.
For example, revealing the scars and aches of his elderly body, the Winston Churchill owl gets right in the face of the dream-filled Soren to explain that battle is “hell” and that being a Guardian warrior is “not heroic. It’s merely doing what’s right over and over again.”
It’s humility that leads the battle-scarred owl to say it’s not heroic, however. “Doing what’s right over and over again,” despite the cost to oneself, is the definition of “heroic.”
Perhaps most intriguing from a spiritual perspective was Soren’s father, who affirms what could also be said of the Bible, “Stories are part of our culture and history. It’s how we learn who we are.”
If American audiences would “learn who we are” from stories like Scripture – or even like “Legend of the Guardians” – who knows, but that we would see a generation rising up to be heroic, to be “Guardians,” maybe even to be Winston Churchills?
And we could certainly use more of all three.
- “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” contains several scenes of battle, though there is no bloodshed or gore. Still, the war-painted owls, fiery battles and glowing eyes beneath iron helmets may be a bit scary or intense for small children.
- The movie’s profanity consists only of one use of the word “hell.”
- A pair of scenes involve regurgitating owl pellets, which some moviegoers may consider gross.
- The film contains no sexual or even romantic elements, save for the vaguely seductive techniques Nyra uses to brainwash young owlet boys.
- The film has no overtly occult content, though various totems erected in Metalbeak’s lair are meant to look creepy. There is a prophet-like echidna that directs the owls and tells them of what is “foretold” (though this is somewhat of a joke, as everything appears to be “foretold”). He carries a medicine-man-like staff and is said to guide others by his spines, whatever that means. There is an unexplained power that feeds off metal “specks” (could it be magnetic?) and weakens owls through bolts of blue light. Religious references are limited to vague discussions about “following your gizzard” and believing in things you cannot see.