Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga' Hoole features characters named Ezylryb and Gylfie - who live in the Kingdom of Ga'Hoole, when not stretching their wings across the Sea of Hoolamer. Reading this, anyone who finds the geography lessons necessitated by fantasy an unnecessary chore will likely flee to Another Page.
Don't. The new 3-D animated film from filmmaker Zach Snyder ( Watchman, 300) is a splendid adventure sure to thrill children and fantasy buffs, while leaving everyone else passably entertained.
Legend of the Guardians opens with an owl surfing a fierce wind. The computer animation is vivid; the depiction of the sleek, soaring barn owl, intricately detailed. So far so good. Then we get into the owl's tree house (in the Forest Kingdom of Tyto) and family time: Dad telling a bedtime story to three moon-faced owlets while mom fusses about.
Oh Lord, fantasy agnostics will shudder - two hours of owls talking in BBC accents.
Don't worry. A minute or so later, two owls - Soren and Kludd - fall from high up in the Great Ga'Hoole Tree. A snarling wolf approaches, about to strike. But the young owls are snatched away by recruiters from the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. The rescuers are meaner than the wolf, however - vicious birds who speak with garish Cockney accents, as if they're auditioning for a Guy Ritchie movie.
St. Aggie's is a factory for raising a fascist air force, it turns out. Helen Mirren's purring seductress, Nyra, runs the place. She wants to conquer and rule the owl kingdom. Kludd is a ready disciple, while brother Soren, our hero, dreams of joining the Guardians of Ga' Hoole and saving the day, defeating the self-proclaimed Pure Ones.
What ensues is top-notch Saturday-matinee-for-kids fare. Nothing too complicated: good versus evil, brother against brother, lots of fighting and stunts galore. And please pass the popcorn.
There are some sharp, funny bits. Geoffrey Rush gives voice to the aging Guardian hero, Ezylryb, a battered but game screech owl, as if he's Winston Churchill rallying Britain against the Nazi menace. And to reach the Guardians, Soren (Jim Sturgess, star of Across the Universe) hooks up with a great grey owl, Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia), who fancies himself a poet hero and bashes out unshapely folk songs on a lute.
Still, it's the 3-D stunts that make Legend of the Guardians a stirring entertainment.
The good stuff kids will replay in their heads afterwards includes a harrowing flight through frozen rain and a climactic battle, a violently swirling aerial ballet, that will have wee ones ducking into their parents' laps for cover. So if you feed your kids sticky candy, it's probably best not to wear good trousers.
More good news (and speaking of movie matinees of yore): Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is preceded by a Warner Bros. 3-D cartoon starring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. The short is called Fur of Flying. Save your kids a lifetime of frustration and tell them right off there is no point cheering for the dog.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
- Directed by Zack Snyder
- Written by John Orloff and John Collee
- Featuring the voices of Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Barclay, Anthony LaPaglia and Helen Mirren
- Classification: PG
Special to The Globe and Mail