Legend of the Guardians

Warner Bros. Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Visually thrilling Legend, about an idealistic owlet searching for the fabled Guardians, soars on the strength of its gorgeous 3-D animation and stellar voice cast. But the relentless darkness and intense action might upset younger viewers. Expect their talons clawing your arm.

The Bigger Picture: 300 director Zack Snyder, working from Kathryn Lasky's young adult novels, this time rallies bands of birds into battle—with all the stylized spectacle you'd expect and then some. The winged warriors even sport Spartan-style helmets, though thankfully no six-pack abs or black-leather Speedos.

The call to arms (and beaks) occurs after young barn-owl brothers Soren (Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are kidnapped by the Pure Ones, who convert captives into obedient workers and soldiers. The P.O.'s dastardly plan? To lure and destroy the legendary Guardians with an electromagnetic gizzard-zapper—or something like that. Just go with it.

With the help of other brave owls, Soren makes a daring escape and races across the sea to the island of Ga'hoole to find and warn the Guardians. Together, newbie hero Soren and the elder nobles wage an epic war against the P.O.'s army and their wicked queen (Helen Mirren—who else?) for all of owl-dom.

Condensing three books into one movie, the script packs in gobs of mythology and action, and the characters could've used a little breathing room for more exploration—including Kludd's turn to the dark side. But the winning voice work by the largely Aussie cast helps give them great expression and depth.

Still, the real stars are helmer Snyder and his digital wizards who've crafted the wowza animation—from the tiny details of owl feathers fluttering in the wind to stunning, sun-dappled vistas and operatic, slo-mo sequences of Soren soaring through rainstorms and firestorms. See it in 3-D for the full exhilarating effect.

Parents, be advised: The dynamic rendering of clashing titans, brainwashed drones, and shrieking, red-eyed bats (eek!) might send your little owlets scrambling into their holes.

The 180—a Second Opinion: David Hirschfelder's lush score is perfect accompaniment, so the interjection of Adam Young's pop-cheese theme song "To the Sky" strikes a discordant note. Maybe Young got the gig cuz his band is called Owl City. No, seriously.

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