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Half a Hoot 

Legend tries to soar epically, but we’re still talking about owls here.

click to enlarge Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole

The production design is stunning — approaching, if not quite reaching, Avatar quality. The flying sequences are among the best ever created; you really feel like you’re up there soaring through the clouds in the sky. The voice acting is top-notch. The story succeeds, now and then, in reaching epic proportions.

But the last part might be the problem with this big-budget, handsomely animated adaptation of three books from Kathryn Lasky’s Owls of Ga’Hoole series. They’re young-adult fantasy novels that tell of a world where there are no humans. There are, however, plenty of animals — mostly birds — with plenty of human characteristics.

There are bad-guy owls called “the pure ones” and good-guy owls known as “the guardians.” Two little owlets are snatched from their homes and taken, along with hordes of other snatched owlets, to a faraway place where they’re to be brainwashed (“moonblinked”) into becoming mindless armies participating in taking over the owl world ... or something like that.

While it’s a given that movies condense their source material, you get the sense in Legend of the Guardians that too much has been skipped over. The result is that a great deal of the storytelling here just doesn’t make much sense.

On a positive note, director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) has infused the film with lots of energy. He takes time for Sergio Leone-style extreme close-ups of a wide variety of owl faces, many of them with wizened features and battle scars.

As a film about battle, Legend is quite violent, but most of the actual mayhem is done off-screen and there isn’t a lick of blood to be seen. There’s even, at one point, a strong anti-war message, kind of. The real takeaway from the film sits better with its coming-of-age characters: Trust your gizzard, and all will work out.

But then the film’s deficiencies get in the way. A thrilling airborne escape is ruined by switching to slow motion. An insufferable pop tune (something about “a bird’s-eye view”) drags out a montage flying sequence. We’re never clear on how the pure ones’ villainous plot will play out.

In the tag-along characters of Digger and Twilight, thankfully, there’s some good comic relief that borrows from both Monty Python and Lewis Carroll. But since we’re left wondering how order could possibly come to all owl kingdoms, Legend’s ending seems excessively unresolved.

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