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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 animation (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.
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.