Epic is almost exactly what you would expect from the trailers. In many ways, it’s a ripoff of Ferngully, minus the obvious environmental message (one of Ferngully‘s most endearing attributes). It varyingly hints at or downright copies elements from that movie, from characters, to story, to design. It also borrows from a slew of other films, including Arthur and the Minimoys, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Spiderwick Chronicles and Happy Feet. I knew all of this going into the theater, and had already begun to write my review in my head when something unexpected happened. Epic won me over.
I’m not entirely sure when or how it happened, all I know is by the final act I was genuinely enjoying myself. It could have been Epic‘s sense of humor. Where many animated films dumb down the humor to target kids all while throwing a few bones over their heads for the parents, Epic‘s humor feels fresh and honest, able to be enjoyed by all without struggling to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps I was drawn in by the somewhat offbeat voice cast, or the appealing visuals. Or maybe it was just the film’s overall quirkiness, which kept things always slightly off balance.
Epic begins as Mary Katherine, “MK”, comes to live with her estranged father after the death of her mother. Her father is some sort of scientist on an obsessive quest to confirm his beliefs in another world within ours, which governs all of nature, and specifically the forest in which he lives. He spends his time monitoring the cameras and devices he set up in the forest, with only their goofy, three-legged dog for company. MK resents her father’s obsession, which tore apart their family, and she hates the idea of returning to live with him, even for the short amount of time until she can live on her own.
This other world does, of course, exist, in a constant state of struggle between the forces of life and of decay. At the approach of the solstice, combined for the first time in a hundred years with a full moon, the queen prepares to select a pod which whose blooming will allow the forest to remain in balance. However, the ceremony is interrupted by Mandrake and his decay army, and the queen is injured while the leafman soldiers attempt to fight back. It’s at this moment that fate intervenes, and MK appears and discovers the queen, who shrinks MK down to the size of a bug and entrusts her with the protection of the magical pod.
What follows is an action adventure of epic scale yet small size. It’s filled with soldiers riding hummingbirds, giant (relatively speaking) creatures, and stunning visuals that nevertheless lack Ferngully‘s organic, hand-drawn loveliness. The voice cast is surprisingly interesting, with stunt casting that never truly feels like stunt casting. Amanda Seyfried makes a solid protagonist, and gives MK a subtle depth of feeling. Beyonce has some nice moments as the queen, while Colin Farrell and Josh Hutcherson make the most of the humor and heart in their roles as leafmen. Jason Sudeikis falls a bit flat as MK’s father, but Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd steal the show as the snail/slug combo, Mub and Grub, charged with caring for the pods. Christoph Waltz is perfectly cast as an animated villain, and it makes me wonder why no one thought to do it before. And even Steven Tyler fits in well, as a sage-like bug.
Epic is solidly, if unspectacularly, directed, obviously designed to make the most of the 3D experience. It does, however, have an excellent score by the always reliable Danny Elfman. While “epic” might not be the way I would describe Epic, it’s not an excessively boastful title. In the end, if Epic gives us exactly what we expect, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes there is comfort to be had in having our expectations met. If it manages to do it in a quirky way that feels fresh, so much the better. And just sometimes getting what we expect can be surprising.
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