Enter a Whole New World, Right Under Your Nose!
Chris Wedge isn't the most famous director in animation, but he may be one that audiences unknowingly have the closest relationship with. He voices Scrat in the four (so far) "Ice Age" films ("Ice Age," "Ice Age: The Meltdown," "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," and "Ice Age: Continental Drift"). While that role doesn't really involve much talking - actually, it doesn't involve any talking at all - how cool is that? He voices Scrat! So, this is a cool dude who deserves respect.
Directing "Epic" (2013) for Blue Sky Studios, which he co-founded, Wedge no doubt could have kept cranking out "Ice Age" sequels and spin-offs and prequels and tv series and, well, just about anything you could imagine under that brand name. However, he decided to take a chance and make a 3D computer animated feature film based on a fairly obscure children's book by William Joyce, "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs." Joyce was friends with Wedge, having worked with him on a previous film ("Robots"), so it's not as though there was some extended search to find the perfect story for a new animated film. While not a smash hit like the "Ice Age" franchise, "Epic" has received solid reviews and done good business.
|Mary Katherine protecting the pod|
Professor Bomba has been on a quest to find tiny human soldiers named Leafmen. The Leafmen fight against Boggans to protect a nearby forest. The Boggans are led by Mandrake, while the Leafmen are led by Ronin. There is a forest queen, Queen Tara, and she wants to appoint an heir to the throne. She chooses the smallest leaf pod as the heir, but the Boggans then suddenly attack. Queen Tara takes the pod with her, but the Boggans overwhelm her bodyguard and are on the verge of capturing her. She uses magic to avoid capture until Ronin can arrive and whisk her off on his hummingbird. Mandrake, however, will not be denied. He and his son Dagda attack, but during the fighting both Queen Tara and Dagda are fatally wounded.
|The ride of their lives!|
Bomba's daughter, Mary Katherine ("MK"), has come to live with him, but she soon tires of his preoccupation with the tiny forest creatures. The family's three-legged dog, Ozzy, runs off into the woods, and MK goes off to find him. While alone in the woods, MK happens to see Tara dying after being shot with an arrow by Mandrake. Queen Tara gives MK the pod and uses magic to shrink MK to the same size as the Boggans and the Leafmen. Before she dies, Tara manages to tell MK to take the pod to a Glowworm named Nim Galuu.
MK embarks on her quest, joining up with Ronin and the Leafmen, who are accompanied by a slug named Mub and a snail named Grub. After some further adventures, a young soldier who previously had left the Leafmen, Nod, also joins up with them after Ronin saves Nod's life after Nod welched on an agreement.
|Ronin and friends|
The group finds Nim Galuu, who takes them to a scroll library which contains the late Queen's effects. Nod takes MK on a deer ride, and they develop feelings for each other. Mandrake, however, shows up and captures Mub, Grub and the pod, which Mandrake thinks has magical properties and will bring his son back to life. MK, Nod and Ronin set out to free the captives, but first they stop at Bomba's house to get some disguises.
It turns out that the Leafmen know all about MK's father, but they don't like him and are misleading him. Ozzy, meanwhile, suddenly shows up and chases the tiny MK, which alerts Bomba to their presence. Bomba captures MK, but then faints dead away out of shock. MK marks his map with a pin to show where the Leafmen are, then leaves.
|Mandrake on the attack|
Ronin diverts the Boggans' attention while MK and Nod rescue Mub, Grub and the pod. Mandrake fights back, and while the others escape, Ronin falls victim to the Boggans. The pod is scheduled to sprout at the full moon, but Mandrak has bats block the moon's light so that the pod will sprout in darkness. MK decides that she needs her father's help, and she leads him to Mandrake's hideout. Bomba uses his iPod to make bat sounds, which causes the bats to stop blocking the moonlight and follow him.
|The good guys|
Ronin shows up, bruised and battered, and is assisted by Nod in fighting Mandrake and preventing Mandrake from blocking the moonlight from hitting the pod again. The pod finally does sprout in the moonlight, causing it to ally with the Leafmen and defeat the Boggans.
The new Queen is a flower child who had helped Queen Tara earlier. Grub realizes his dream of becoming a Leafman, Ronin and Nod become friends, and Nod and MK kiss. MK then returns to normal human size, but MK and her father continue studying the forest creatures and remain their friends.
|Mary Katherine at Professor Bomba's lab|
"Epic" is high-concept, creating an entire civilization of forest creatures living right under the noses of humans. It is a wonderful attempt to create an entirely new world within the one we all inhabit. It's not quite JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth, but then, few things match up with the master. "Epic" is much more formulaic and the characters not nearly as interesting or captivating as in, say, "Alice in Wonderland." Even the one-word title, following a trend very much in vogue these days, betrays the lack of originality.
There are the usual tired tropes of childhood stories - Nod learns the true value of teamwork, evil is defeated because good people work together against it, love overcomes everything and so on and so forth - but it all may be just a bit tough for the youngest children to follow. There are many unnecessarily complicated twists and turns. Slightly older children who are still undemanding should like "Epic." Consider the sweet spot to be the 8-10-year-old range.
|Nod and Mary Katherine|
The voice stars of "Epic" are all quite capable, though not quite at the top level of current voice actors. Amanda Seyfried plays MK, while Josh Hutcherson is her romantic interest, Nod. Colin Farrell is appropriately manly as Ronin, while Christopher Waltz plays Mandrake in the typical hammy-villain style. Beyoncé Knowles has the brief but pivotal role of Queen Tara, while Aziz Ansari comes close to stealing the film as Mub. Jason Sudeikis is fine as Professor Bomba, while rocker Steven Tyler makes a rare film appearance as Nim Galuu.
|Ronin and Mub|
The use of modern gadgets such as iPods in neo-classical childhood tales such as "Epic" is an odd developing trend, also used in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." It is a bit jarring to see an Apple product placement in the middle of a tale about slugs and forest queens, but "Epic" is what it is. The resolution of "Epic" also is a bit jarring, as the blossoming romance between MK and Nod is abruptly cut off.
There also is a broader question, which is: what's the point? It's a bit unclear, aside from some lip service, as to why it is important whether one faction (the Leafmen) defeat another faction (the Boggans). None of this is a slight on the original author, Joyce, who wrote a much simpler story than the one we see on the screen. The five screenwriters together, though, should have created a more nuanced screenplay.
|Ronin and the Leafmen|
The animation is superb, and "Epic" is solid family entertainment. Its failing is that it isn't all that original, being essentially a polemic on the importance of preserving the forests. The characters are all stereotypical - brave leader, innocent girl, renegade who learns his lesson about being a renegade, evil opposing warlord, etc. - which may be comforting for those looking for the same old thing you will see everywhere else. The undeniably impressive animation obscures the fact that the "Epic" story itself is trite and unoriginal.
"Epic" is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. Danny Elfman composed the so-so soundtrack, with the song "Rise Up" performed by Beyoncé Knowles. Below is the trailer.
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