There’s a new breed of super-bird in town, and it’s not the plasticine poultry of Chicken Run.

Owls are seriously incredible birds to watch, real or otherwise. Their eyes are huge and expressive. Their heads can rotate a whopping 270 degrees, and of course, they fly completely silently. So, what happens when someone writes a fantasy epic about an owl kingdom, complete with war, revenge, racism and a huge cast?

A damn entertaining hour and a half, that’s what happens. This is a young adult’s film, but we’ll say this much – it’s not just for teeny-boppers and people who’re not quite old enough to digest the Twilight saga. The film appeals equally to children and small adults, and the mature narrative works on two levels.

Soren is your average Tito owl, that is handsome and lives in the forest. He’s got a brother, a sister, and two parents – oh, and his nurse-maid is a snake. Thought I’d mention that oddity to give you an idea of how dissimilar this is to any other animal-themed kids film. One day, him and his brother are kidnapped by a couple of evil owls, and taken to the lair of Metalbeak, evil owl supremo.

Soon enough, the brothers are divided – Soren turned into a slave, and his brother Kludd (a rather weak-minded, traitorous bird) choosing to take the “noble pure race” fast-track to a career as a soldier. Escaping the clutches with a wee female sidekick, Soren gathers a rag-tag bunch of quirky owls, and goes in search of the legendary Guardians. An honourable mention also goes out to A-list actors Helen Mirren and Hugo Weaving as Nyra the evil owl queen and Soren’s father, respectively, both actors lend the film some great voice acting.

It’s all a bit much to take in at first – though to be fair, that’s mainly due to the fact it’s a three-book story crammed into around 90 minutes. But it works – there’s never a moment where nothing is happening, where there’s no story progression. Long journeys across the ocean and back are absent, leaving us with the real meat of what’s going on.

From start to finish, it’s war, and it’s bloody. For a younger audience, parents may want to bear in mind the film’s not suited to toddlers – owls are brutal killers, and an innocent mouse getting eaten, then thrown up later is one of the first things they’ll learn about these amazing creatures. But the cinematography is such that there’s never any on-screen blood and gore, which is a smart decision on the part of director Zack Snyder.

The CGI itself is breathtaking, and we urge you to see it in 3D if you can. The vistas are breathtaking, and the detail on each individual owl is such that it takes away any doubt that these are humanised owls. Body language is foreign, though it’s an oddity that almost every owl in the film talks with an Australian accent, which may throw a few UK viewers more used to Americans with the odd Brit stereotype (don’t worry, there’s one in Guardians, too).

It is in the realm of the visual that Guardians soars, and ties in so well with the story. Kids may find themselves occasionally a little lost, as the vocabulary used by some of the older, wiser owls sometimes reaches English undergraduate levels of obscure complexity, but it all contributes to the spectacle and the message: every owl is different, and it doesn’t make anyone less worthy.

Like Harry Potter before it, this film imparts strong messages about loyalty, anti-prejudice and the unfortunate necessity of violence, and no child is likely to walk out of the cinema wanting a small metal set of claws (you might want to keep London’s Camden High Street a secret for a while then, eh?). It’s something you can really sink your teeth (talons or beak) into, and we eagerly anticipate the next instalment.

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Rating: 3.7/5 (3 votes cast)
Watchers in the Night: Legend of the Guardians 3D review, 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings