Who's In It: Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Joel Edgarton, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Emily Barclay, Essie Davis, Deborra-Lee Furness, Adrienne DeFaria, Miriam Margolyes, Leigh Whannell
The Basics: Soren (Across the Universe's Jim Sturgess) is the apple of his family's eye, a young owlet with a taste for the legends his father tells about a race of honorable warriors. Kludd (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) is Soren's older brother, hotheaded, strong, and jealous of his Soren's natural talents. When the two are owl-napped by an army of fascist super-owls, they find themselves on opposite sides of an epic battle that will determine the future of owldom and kick off an entire film franchise of scary movies for kids.
What's The Deal: Legend of the Guardians is what you might expect from a filmmaker like Zack Snyder, who brought stylistic flair in digitally created environments to the macho warrior movie 300 and the geektastic graphic novel adaptation Watchmen -- it's visually breathtaking, more than a little intense, and for better and worse, epic in feeling. With a textbook arc taken straight from Joseph Campbell 101, that epic-ness isn't so much earned in its own right as it is simply constructed for the sake of story (heroes and villains are established early on and you can see the twists and turns coming a mile away), but engaging, often brutal action sequences give Legend of the Guardians real emotional stakes. By the time battle claws are sharpened and helmets roll, even adults will find themselves surprisingly invested.
How You Know It's A Zack Snyder Film: Snyder is a well-documented slo-mo addict, only here he makes use of total computer-generated control to lavish attention on every single gorgeous drop of rain falling slowly against wet CG feathers instead of on half-naked men with swords rushing into battle. Besides, what other filmmaker would dare to imply death, decapitation, maiming, and other various battle injuries in an animated CGI owl movie for kids?
The Sore Thumb Song That Momentarily Takes You Out Of The Movie: Legend of the Guardian's peppy theme song, "To the Sky," penned by indie synthpop band Owl City. It plays over a flying montage. The band has the word "owl" in their name. We get it. But it doesn't work, especially when this kind of skinny jeans pop elbows its way into a fantasy film with an old world feeling that's more Avatar than MTV.
For A Better Entry In The Scary Kids' Animated Film Hall of Fame: Watch Watership Down, the 1978 animated adaptation of the novel of the same name about a group of cute 'n' cuddly rabbits fighting for survival.