The by-the-numbers kid’s movie elements (which includes an unnecessary romance subplot) prevents Epic from completely living up to its name.
Epic takes place in the heart of the forest, where the universal war between the forces of good/evil, life/death and light/darkness unfolds on the smallest of scales. That task of guarding and protecting the woods falls to the Leaf Men, an army of tiny human soldiers that are tiny enough to be able to ride hummingbirds and leap about like grasshoppers. On the opposite side are the Boggens, a nasty race of similar pint-sized creatures that drain the life-force from anything they touch.
The enthusiastic and eccentric Professor Bomba (voice of Jason Sudeikis) has spent years studying the forest’s miniature inhabitants – in an effort to prove their existence – which ended up costing him his career and, eventually, his marriage. Bomba’s estranged 17-year old daughter, Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), who goes by M.K., comes to stay with her wayward dad, not so long after her mother passed away. While M.K. is initially dismissive of her father’s crackpot theories, a chance encounter with one of the forest’s mystical inhabitants whisks her away on the most (here it comes…) epic adventure that she never expected.
Epic is the new 3D animated movie from Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age), and is loosely based on the children’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs” by award-winning filmmaker and author William Joyce (he also wrote the novel that inspired Rise of the Guardians). The trailers have made Epic seem rather similar to the (Famous? Infamous?) traditionally-animated environmental parable, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest; while the pair share story qualities and character archetypes (on a surface level), the fantasy story imagined by Joyce is a much more subtle – and elegant – allegory about the importance of faith, tolerance and how all forms of life (even those we cannot fully comprehend) are interconnected.
These themes are presented in a way that’s digestible for kids (while adults will get the deeper meaning), with fantasy explanations; like, how the Leaf Men, Boggans, and other minuscule creatures operate in a different time dimension – hence, they appear to move ultra-fast to comparatively humongous animals like humans (a.k.a “Stompers”). Problem is, whenever Epic has a chance to dig deep into these ideas – or allow for moments of genuine poignancy – it usually chooses to move on, in order to fill in all the boxes on the standard kid’s movie checklist. Nonetheless, the core of the story’s meaning comes through strong enough to make this a solid film for the whole family.
Joyce co-wrote the Epic screen story and script (pun!) with the film’s director Chris Wedge (Ice Age), James V. Hart (Hook), Daniel Shere (We Are Family), Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (Get Smart). The overarching narrative, admittedly, tends to hit all the beats you would predict, but it’s also well-constructed and offers enough in the way of proper setup/payoffs to generate (some) emotional impact. It’s still a notch below the best storytelling examples from rival computer-animation studios Pixar and DreamWorks, but Epic shows real growth from Blue Sky (especially given how they’ve churned out so many stale Ice Age sequels in recent years).
Seyfried and Sudeikis prove to be solid voice actor choices for M.K. and her dad, as is Josh Hutcherson for the young and cocky Leaf Men warrior Nod. However, it may take a moment to adjust to Colin Farrell’s (not so) American voice coming from the hardened Leaf Men leader Ronin – Nod’s paternal-figure - and Beyoncé Knowles voicing the kind and playful Queen Tara (basically, the Queen of the forest); all in all, though, their voice work is fine. Unfortunately, Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd as Mub (a slug) and Grub (a snail) never rise above being generic comic relief – even though both characters are essential to the plot – and mostly exist to make kids in the audience laugh (no more, no less).
Christoph Waltz as the Boggan leader, Mandrake, lends his customary voice to the proceedings – a mix of whimsy and sinister tones – and the character is largely just the personification of evil; though, in a (pleasant) surprise twist, the film does take a moment to establish Mandrake’s relationship with his son, Dagda (Blake Anderson) and gives him an ounce of humanity. Lastly, the two bizarre voice actor choices are Pitbull as a mob boss-like toad and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler as a quirky sage-like caterpillar. The former musician’s character is (thankfully) not on-screen for long, while the latter sort of works but also feels out of place (especially during his short, impromptu musical number).
The animation in Epic is neither as expressive nor tangible as it could’ve been, but it is otherwise satisfactory enough and gives a glowering storybook quality to the visuals. What proves to be far more impressive are the film’s action sequences, which take advantage of the tiny characters’ POV. Epic is worth the increased ticket price for a 3D upgrade, since the film takes viewers along for a ride with the Leaf Men, as they fly upon birds – through the dense forestry and over cascading streams of water that (from their perspective) appear like waterfalls – and encounter “giant” animals, be it a burrowing mouse or deer prancing through the woods.
Indeed, that appreciation for the beauty of the world – and life in its various forms – complements the thematic core of Epic, and helps to make the film stronger. As mentioned before, the by-the-numbers kid’s movie elements (which includes an unnecessary romance subplot) prevents Epic from completely living up to its name (sorry, had to say it); nonetheless, it’s still worth a recommendation.
If you’re still on the fence about Epic, check out the trailer below:
Epic is 102 minutes long and Rated PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language. Now playing in theaters around the U.S.