The Guardians of the Vulnerable: A Non-Expert Expression of How Much I Loved That Owl Movie

By

I just got home from watching The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole with my family. I’m eager to share just “owl” much I loved this movie. And with that bad joke I demonstrate explicitly how far I am from being qualified to review a movie. I have none of the skill of the learned chaps who frequent this fine establishment. This will be a review from a person who has never seen most of the movies that get reviewed by people who know a lot about cinema. Most of my male relatives chew tobacco.

Owls movie, regular idiot review, with commentary on raising kids in a toxic world…go.

Firstly, Legend… is breathtaking to watch. It’s a visually stunning, captivating movie, with wonderful detail and guardians1animation (is it still called animation?). I recently finished reading Neil Granger’s book, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. I couldn’t help but think of Walt. I thought of how he accomplished something incredible with Snow White and how amazed he would be at a film like this. It was a real joy to watch. 3D? I loved it. Maybe that makes me a real hick from the sticks, unable to appreciate how 3D is devastating modern cinema. This was a movie where, for me, 3D aided the suspension of disbelief and the imaginative quality of the picture.

Movies with good “special effects” are in great supply. (Do they still call them special effects?) But there are fewer movies that have a great story and fewer still which don’t undermine the truth about the world God made either in slight, or flagrant ways. This movie, to unholster a tired cliche, has it all.

I loved the story. I bought in like a rich investor, took the bait hook, line, and sinker. Was it a basic good vs. evil story?  Yes. I love that. The story was so fundamentally good in that I just sat there grinning throughout. My review can be summarized in one word: fantastic. But this has a lot to do with where I am in life and who I was sitting with.

wizardandgeorge

I sat between our 5 and 7 year old kids, my wife held our sleeping baby throughout. Our 5 year old boy has only been so for a few days. Yesterday we celebrated his birthday with a “St. George” party. My older brother dressed as a dragon and our son, distinguished from his comrade knights by the St. George’s cross on his chest, led the attack on the castle to save the princess (well-acted by his brilliant and beautiful sister). It was a great time, though I’m sure if there were any dour, P.C. scolds watching they would have been horrified. (This is unlikely in rural West Virginia farming country.) What we emphasized in that party and what countless tales told to these children over and over emphasize is this: If you have strength, it is not to dominate and control, but to love and serve. If you are a leader, then you are not to rule by lording it over others, but to lay down your life. To serve. To die.

I must say (though I know it is hard for some modern ears to hear) that I especially emphasize this point with my oldest son (and will with his brother in time). My old-fashioned understanding? Boys need to know that strength is not for lording, intimidating, tyrannizing, and it is for dang sure not about serving yourself. We. Look. To. Jesus.

Jesus is our example. The Son of God who, though being rich, became poor; though being strong, became weak; though being Majestic in Glory and Deserving of All Power and Praise, put on a servant’s nature. He came to serve. Husbands are therefore commanded to be like that as they lead. My heart is for that in my own life (though I fail regularly) and my training and instruction for these boys must be “in the Lord.”

So, back to this movie about owls. Inside the story there is a story (I love that kind of thing.) The story within the story is one that our main character, Soren, loves and retells over and over. He believes this story (of the legendary Guardians) with all his heart, though others deride him for his faith. A beautiful element of this movie is how the story that he believes to be true, though he can’t see with his eyes, impacts his entire being. He is different because of how this story works on him, in stark contrast to his unbelieving brother.

This is pretty much the situation for Christians.

Of course Soren is right, his faith eventually becomes sight and he meets his heroes. In a lovely touch, his number one hero is not as physically impressive as he expects. This clever turn points to the underlying theme of the story and the oath of the Guardians. They are charged with, “mending the broken, making the weak strong.” In contrast with the evil “Pure Ones,” (wondrous, ironic nomenclature) who wish to manipulate, dominate, and enslave the weak and vulnerable.

The Guardians protect the vulnerable, they serve the weak. They do not use their power and authority to serve themselves, but fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The Guardians also have a hierarchical structure, they have a king and queen. But the use of this power and authority, as in Tolkien and Lewis (and Scripture), is operated by the “good side” not for self, but for love and service. It is, frankly, a beautiful thing to see.

It is a rare joy to go to the movies and so explicitly see the values that we emphasize in our home be, not undermined, but underlined. I was ecstatic.

Sure, it’s fine to talk over all the core toxicity of films with our kids, to learn something from the bent expressions of the fallen imagination. These can sometimes be very fruitful –especially, I suppose, with older kids. But man, it’s great to just see something good. Real good.

This is why I love Andrew Peterson’s books. Fantastic stories brilliantly told, but without the core deceptions of a man-centered worldview. A modern author…and we can trust him! Don’t wonder why Christian parents rejoice at such things. It’s a rare treasure found. There are others of course (my kids have read hundreds of good books), but the “total package” thing is pretty rare in my experience. I feel like that’s what you get with AP’s books.

This movie feels pretty close to that as well. I haven’t read the books (The Owls of Ga’hoole), but this movie was a deep delight for me to see with my kids. I enthusiastically stick all the thumbs I have and can borrow from my neighbors in an upward direction.

Note: Some of the action/peril might frighten young kids, but my 5 year old (prepped) was not bothered –and he is not exposed to a lot of scary images/movies.


37 Comments

  1. kelli

    We watched this last weekend with our 2 daughters, ages 9 & 7, and we all LOVED this movie for the same reasons you mentioned, Sam! It was breathtaking, told us our story again and reminded us of who we are.

    My daughters have been heard since flying through the house shouting, “I’m Soren this time!” as they are engulfed in play.

    8 more thumbs up joining yours!!

  2. Shane Werlinger

    You’re sandbaggin’ at the beginning of this. The review was amazing, so much more than a reivew. I’ve been debating on taking my 7 year old daughter but now we have to go to The Henry Ford and see this in real Imax 3-D.

  3. JJ Mahoney

    The two things that stuck out to me in this review:

    #1: “Boys need to know that strength is not for lording, intimidating, tyrannizing, and it is for dang sure not about serving yourself. We look to Jesus.”

    I hope you don’t mind if I steal that. It’s brilliant, and sums up perfectly how I hope I can raise my son (now 18 months old).

    #2: You in a wizard costume. Awesome.

  4. Stacy Grubb

    Thanks SO much for this review, Sam, however out of your league you may have felt in writing it. We first saw the previews for this one several months ago and I’m really the only one in the house who has been over the top excited to see it. Jason’s skeptical and Elijah proceeds with caution (because it looks like it gets a little scary and he’s susceptible to such things). Your telling of it really solidifies my want to see it, though, and I’ll take the boys if it hairlips Hell to do it (how’s THAT for hick from the sticks?).

    And on your mention of teaching your boys how to not abuse power: That’s so brilliant it nearly brings a tear to my eye. Old-fashioned to some, maybe, but regardless of how hard the world can wish norms were different, True will be true whether anybody believes it or not. What’s true is that, whether societal or biological, men do own a certain amount of power that women do not (and vice versa, for that matter) and the abuse of that power slays me. It seems rare that children are rightly instructed on how to be good stewards of power and leadership – often because parents abuse the power they have over their children. In teaching your boys, you’re also modeling to your little girl what she is to expect from her future (brace for this) boyfriends and husband. Elijah may still be in love with her.

    Very, very good post here, Sam.

  5. Aaron Roughton

    Me before this review: Let’s see, they’ve done dogs, cars, guinea pigs, penguins…looks like they’re hurting for creatures to personify and make adorable because they’ve moved on to birds of prey.

    Me after this review: Awww! Look at the fuzzy wuzzy wittle owls wif der fuzzy wuzzy cute faces! I can’t wait to see this movie! And get a wizard costume! And an owl!

  6. Jill Barnett

    Great review! My husband and I took our children (ages 3 and 6) out on opening weekend. We didn’t see it in 3D, it’s a bit intimidating for our little guy. The kids loved it and talked about it for days. I think I may have enjoyed it more than they did!

    *Love the wizard costume. Now I know what I’m getting my husband for Christmas…

  7. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks for this, S.D. I took my boys and one of their buddies to this film the night it came out, and we all loved it, too. The story was surprisingly good (though it felt rushed at times) and the visuals–oh my! I hope they make another. Owls are cool.

  8. whipple

    I have to insert an aside about how much I appreciate the creativity you Rabbit Roomers put into birthday parties and Christmas gifts. Treasure maps, St. George, pirate chests, etc….it’s wonderful to see you bringing stories to your families. It makes me rethink the giving of gifts in my own family.

  9. Mrs S D Smith

    This review made me teary…and I’d even had the privilege of reading it beforehand. (Perks of being “the Mrs!”) Thanks for the insights, dear. Beauty.

  10. Jamie Buckland

    Daggone you S.D., I was about to call you out for that backwards Snuggie before I got to the #18 comment and saw you already confessed…

    Great review.

    Gonna see the movie asap.

    I agree that it is always a reason for rejoicing when we get to read, watch, or dance around the house to a form of art that makes good use of goodness.

  11. Becky from NE

    Love the picture–that is an adorable boy! I’d seen trailers for this movie and it looked beautiful, but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go to it or not. Now I’ve made up my mind.

    And I love your thoughts on raising sons.

  12. Bruce Hennigan

    My daughter is 23 and my son married and 26 and they both want to go see it! Now, I can’t wait to see the movie. Thanks, man.

    Oh, by the way, any dancing hippos at the birthday party?

    And, Pete, did your owl suffer the same fate as Andrew’s goldfinch?

  13. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I don’t know what it will take to get Pete to share the owl story, but I’m willing to pull out all the stops. Boycott Fiddler’s Green?

    We want the owl story, Pete. We can do this the hard way, or the terrifyingly gruesome way.

  14. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Yeah, Drew, I saw where some thought it was no good. This only increased my enthusiasm after seeing it, because my expectations had been tempered.

    I agree with you (and others) that the gaps were not explained especially well. That was the lone negative (if it can be called that) I mentioned to my wife as we left the theatre. But that kind of thing is so common, as in LOtR etc, that it didn’t bother me at all.

    I loved your review. And for everyone who thinks I was sand-bagging, reading that review reminded me that I definitely was not. You are a real reviewer. Well done.

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  15. Drew Zahn

    S.D., thanks! Honoring and affirming words.

    If I can toot my horn for just a second more (and after that, I promise, I’ll stop), I just watched “Secretariat” for the second time and have dubbed it 2010’s “must-see” movie for Christians – http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=213977. It’s rare these days to see multiple good films in the theater at the same time, and I think “Secretariat” deserves the word-of-mouth buzz that moviegoers of faith gave last year’s “Blind Side,” driving it to unexpected sales and recognition.

    Even seeing it the second time, when the camera angle pans to the last stretch, before the horses reach that part of the track, and the score goes quiet, and Diane Lane quotes Job … and then the music starts and Secretariat comes screaming around the corner … I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it. When the chorus is singing about “rejoicing in Jesus every day” as the horse crosses the finish line … it’s just inspiring.

  16. Pete Peterson

    I enjoyed the movie but my comment upon leaving the theatre was that it was similar to what might happen if someone tried to edit the entire LOTR trilogy down to one two-hour movie. Looked great. Lots of good ideas. Lots of potential. Zero development. Way too much story for that script.

    My other issue (also one of development) is that I have no idea what anyone’s name was except for Soren. The names were so complex and strange that I couldn’t understand them coming out of the mouths of owls. I have a hard time caring about a character if I can’t even hear what his name is and in the end, that was the problem, I didn’t care about anyone except Soren, and him only because I was supposed to, not because the story made me want to.

    Still, at least it tried hard and looked good doing it. Better than 90% of non-Pixar movies.

  17. Peter Br

    Thanks, SD, for the honest review and for the faithful reminder.

    Also — though it has been said — the wizard robe suits you. Do you wear that when you play fantasy football?

  18. Chris Whitler

    Ok, a coupl’a things…

    I laughed out loud at the picture of the birthday party. It is so awesome. It makes me feel not alone in my geekdom. Thank you.

    And a “St. George party”! How awesome is that? What a great idea. When I was a kid, my parents took us to the Chicago art museum where the “St. George and the Dragon” painting was on display. This thing totally captured my imagination. It was all I would draw for a really long time. I wanted to be in that painting!

    I wanna see this film. Thanks for the recommendation.

    And I’m sure the self deprecation was for comedic effect but just in case there’s something real in there, your non-savvy review is appreciated. If you liked it, you liked it and that’s ok. No apologies necessary.

    Thanks.

  19. dawngreen

    Thanks for the review, my friend. Love the wizard hat. Our blue snuggie has been involved in quite a few costumes as well! I am looking forward to the movie for a number of reasons, not least of which is that my son is a HUGE OwlCity fan and he (Adam Young) composed some of the music. Also, we rescued an owl last fall –next year’s HM may need an entire “owl” session.
    I love to hear about your family and you remain in my prayers regularly.

  20. Paula Shaw

    Although, like Pete, I felt the movie tried to cram way too much into such a short amount of time, I loved, loved, loved it! Granted, I am entertained quite easily, and I loved all the owl-y stuff. I loved the humility of the old scruffy owl, and I loved the little fluffy baby owlet girl sister character who pressed into the relationship she had with her brothers, and all the dynamics of that. I would probably even go see this movie again. I’m not even quite sure, but I do know it spoke to something inside me. . .
    And, like so many others Pete, I wanna hear about Ironman. C’mon, what if some of us who want to hear can’t make to Hutchmoot? That would be unfair. C’mon, now. . .

    🙂

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