Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl who lives with his parents, brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) and tiny sister Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) in their nest in the forest, and if there's one thing he loves it's the tales of the legendary owls who came before them and vanquished evil. But more practical matters are pressing, when Soren and Kludd must learn to fly, so to that end their father takes them out onto a nearby branch to teach them techniques to use their wings properly. However, that night the brothers grow foolhardy, and fall to the forest floor...
Bringing new meaning to the word "samey", the look of director Zack Snyder's adaptation of the Kathryn Lasky novels about the unfortunately-titled Owls of Ga'Hoole was catnip (or the bird equivalent) to those owl enthusiasts who may be in the audience, but once most had watched this if they never saw another animated owl in their lives it would be too soon. The plot was your basic good versus evil fantasy, fair enough as far as that went, but even with as much difference in the characters as they could conjure up, the filmmakers were at a loss to make this appear anything but monotonous.
The problem was that no matter how you dressed it up, one owl looks very much like another, and not being the most expressive of animals it was a tough job the animators had on their hands to lend them much personality, leaving them falling back on the celebrity voices. As many of them were interchangeable Australians, the novelty of watching the owls drawling at each other with their Down Under tones wore off fairly quickly, with the few non-Aussies such as a villainous Helen Mirren standing out. And even then, when they were not speaking you were simply regarding yet another exquisitely created but dramatically inert cartoon character.
Lots of them, too, with the main anti-fascist theme nothing contentious, but downright perverse to see acted out by owls. You could tell they were perfectly sincere by the way in which every frame was dripping with earnestness, but as allegory it was vague, understandably as if they'd begun restaging World War II battles with our feathered friends it would have been more than a little absurd. As it was we followed Soren as he and Kludd were kidnapped by the bad guys, also owls, and put to work to mine special glowing rocks from owl pellets. There was certainly an educational aspect to this as we found out about how these birds lived their lives, but that only went so far.
Owls do not, for example, wear battle armour (which would mess up their aerodynamics something rotten), and for that matter neither did they go into battle at all as catching and eating small furry creatures was higher up their agenda of an evening. Therefore suspension of disbelief was necessary, but you could do that with fantasy-themed cartoons, that's not where the issues lay. It was more that once you'd seen one artfully represented flying sequence you'd seen them all, not that that was going to stop Snyder offering umpteen more before the film had finished, the general effect of that being that you got mightily sick of watching a plethora of owls (or is it a parliament of owls?) winging their way across the screen in much the same behaviour as you had been enduring for the previous how many minutes. Even the loveliest painting can see its charms wear off if it was all you had to look at, and with this, it might have been better than a kick in the Ga'Hooles but variety was definitely not to the fore. Music by David Hirschfelder.