If you’re going to go the presumptuous route and name a movie Epic, then you damn well better make sure that the film lives up to its name. That is, one would expect such a movie to perform at least one of the following: (1) Tell a legendary story; or (2) Detail some sort of heroic journey that is filled to the brim with ambition and adventure. This movie fails on the first front but is moderately successful on the second; and considering that this particular pic hails from Blue Sky Studios — who are the makers of the Rio and the Ice Age franchise — that’s all one can hope for, really.
Here’s the lowdown: Epic is based upon William Joyce’s children’s book, The Leaf Men And The Brave Good Bugs, and the adapted movie presents a classic (if inferior) battle of good against evil. A city-oriented teenage girl named MK (Amanda Seyfried) is thrust out of her comfort zone when her mother dies, and she goes to live with her estranged father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), who is a forest-dwelling scientist that believes in fairies and (more specifically) tiny creatures called Leaf Men. He’s a bit extreme in his quest to find these little guys, and his obsession annoys the skeptical MK to no end. Dads are, like, so weird.
As luck would have it, MK unexpectedly intrudes upon an overarching conflict between the forest’s Queen Tara (Beyonce, yes that Beyonce) and the nefarious Mandrake (Christoph Waltz, who always does villainous well). Soon enough, Queen Tara shrinks MK down to the size of a pixie. As such, MK becomes a bit like the female protagonist of The Secret World of Arrietty, but Epic isn’t nearly as glorious in terms of characterization or story. Instead, Epic goes for the obvious when Tara asks MK for her help in defending the forest from Mandrake, who seeks to destroy the habitat with his “rot.” Mandrake is bored with the balance of nature and seeks to shake things up a bit for his own amusement and, of course, because he is a really, really bad guy. During her somewhat exciting adventure, MK enlists heroic Leaf Men named Ronin (Colin Farrell) and Nod (Josh Hutcherson), the latter of whom ends up hitting on MK, which makes no sense since she’ll be much taller than him when this story ends. Such is children’s cinema.
I think you can guess which side wins the fight, and there is nothing unpredictable or groundbreaking about Epic at all. Yet while the story is quite straightforward and threadbare despite a whole lot of shit happening throughout the movie, the visuals and the voicework elevate this film into something of an experience. It might not be an experience that you’ll remember a year from now, but it’s not an unpleasant way to spend some family time. Even though the filmmakers focused on everything but the story, the movie still works on some level, so if you’re not big in characterization or a witty screenplay and are merely seeking an action-oriented good time to entertain the kiddies, you’re in luck here. Unfortunately, most of the characters are flat as hell, and the only ones meant to provide some comic relief (a snail and a slug, voiced by Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari, respectively) are merely superfluous.
Likewise, visuals are quite spectacular and provide great detail to the world close to the ground from a Thumbelina point of view, so to speak. The good guys dwell within the grass line, which is presented in an ethereal manner with bright colors and abundant plant life. The bad dudes hang in a very dark world and spread rot by means of gargoyles (called Boggans) dressed in the skeletons and skins of those creatures they have defeated on prior occasions. The voicework is also quite interesting. I guess if producers were feeling trendy, then Emma Stone, Will Arnett, and Ryan Reynolds would voice this movie to passable but not great reception, but instead, the aural palette is just as lush as the visual one. Naturally, Waltz’s distinctive voice stands out the most, and even without seeing him, his presence is very prominent. Likewise, Beyonce leaves an impression even if she’s obviously a piece of stunt casting. O’Dowd is also great fun although his character is utterly pointless, and Seyfried stands out a lot more than one would expect.
Themes include protecting the environment and appreciating one’s family, no matter how unconventional or outright weird they happen to be. The story falls into place in a very predictable manner, and well-worn tropes are once again dragged out for another run. Epic is a cute and harmless movie. It’s fun and enjoyable but not very, you know, epic.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.