Zack Snyder tries to do for feathers what he did for abs and biceps in “300” in this 3D animated adventure based on three books from the 15-book series of Ga’hoole novels by Kathryn Lansky. Every snowflake, feather, and talon is vivid, arresting, and (apparently) literally in your face, but the story is not as clear. the striking visuals do not make up for a muddled story with too many characters and a plot that seems to be pulled together from the usual Joseph Campbell/George Lucas/J.R.R. Tolkien box of plots and characters.
Two owl brothers, Soren (a likable Jim Sturgess) and Kludd, not quite ready to fly, fall out of the nest and are captured and flown to the headquarters of Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton) and his wife (acidly voiced by Helen Mirren), where kidnapped owlets are assigned to be soldiers or drones. Look at those names again — any question about which one is going to have the heart, I mean force, I mean gizzard to lead the rebel forces and which one is going to buy into the whole “we’re the pure and the strong so we get to oppress everyone else” side of things?
Wait, you say — but where are the colorful sidekicks? Right over here, where we have a lute-playing warrior-poet and a snake nanny and a future-predicting echidna (an egg-laying spiked mammal that looks sort of like a porcupine) and more. Well, then, you add, there must also be a wise mentor. Step this way, and meet Ezylryb (voiced with asperity by Geoffrey Rush). There are storms and battles and betrayals and a secret weapon made from blue flecks pecked out by owls turned “moon-blinked” (think zombie) from coughed up owl pellets (undigested bits of mouse, we are helpfully told).
Those not familiar with the book will find it hard to follow, especially because of the strong accents of many of the Aussie voice actors. Those who are looking for what they enjoyed in the books may miss the narrator’s voice. There is some impressive sound and fury, but it does not signify much. “Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real,” says the father owl. But, as this and too many other movies show, just because you do see something, even in sharpest 3D, doesn’t mean it is.
Parents should know that the movie has some intense peril and graphic battles with bloody injuries and characters injured and killed, a frank discussion of the consequences of war, betrayal by family, and characters are turned into a kind of zombie.
Family discussion: What did Soren learn about the truth behind the stories he had been told? Why did Soren and his brother have different reactions to their circumstances?
If you like this, try: the series of books by and the Redwall series by Brian Jacques