5/30/2013 - Tiny woodland-dwelling people must save the forest from much creepier-looking woodland-dwelling creatures in Epic, a really swell-looking animated movie.
I mean, points for effort on making flower people and birds and other assorted nature look so pretty on the screen. You can feel good about that, Blue Sky Studios (animator of this movie as well as the Ice Age movies and Rio, which apparently is getting a sequel). Hold on to that.
Meet MK (voice of Amanda Seyfried), a regular human-sized teenage girl on her way to see her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Bomba lost his job, his reputation and his wife and daughter because of his insistence that an advanced civilization of tiny people lives in the forest. Now living in a house deep in the woods, Bomba spends his time placing cameras all over creation and charging off any time a motion sensor suggests that evidence of these tiny people might be at hand. MK isn’t keen on making fairy-finder headquarters her home, but with the recent death of her mother she decides to give it a try — a try of about five minutes, during which her father puts off a conversation about her grief and rushes off to check on one of his alerts. MK gets her suitcase and heads for the road and a hopefully waiting taxi.
Meanwhile, in the forest, Bomba’s universe of tiny people does in fact exist and it’s in the middle of a momentous event. Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) is about to pick the flower bud that will become her heir and the next queen. But Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), head of the evil tiny people called Boggans, plans to kill the queen and her bud and take over the forest with his greenery-destroying evilness. (Mandrake can make rot and decay spread; Tara can make growth and greenery spread. It’s like a showdown between Miracle-Gro and weed killer.) Ronin (Colin Farrell), head of the good-guy tiny people army called the Leafmen, is suspicious that something is up with Mandrake but can’t talk Tara out of her bud-picking ceremony. So while he’s alert, he’s not quite prepared when the onslaught of Boggans attacks Tara’s entourage. It’s a fight of green archers on hummingbirds and blue-gray whatever-the-Boggans-are on crows. It’s in the middle of this fight that MK unknowingly becomes part of the battlefield and suddenly becomes tiny herself. Soon she is wrapped up in helping the Leafmen beat the Boggans. Because Ronin needs help transporting his band — which includes comic relief slug Mub (Aziz Ansari) and snail Grub (Chris O’Dowd) — he seeks out Nod (Josh Hutcherson), his conveniently teenage-seeming foster son who only just quit being a Leafman because “rules, man.”
Did I mention how pretty this movie is? Because, it is. Pretty. With dandelion-headed people and the glowy flower buds and Queen Beyonce’s dress, which, naturally, is fabulous (because even in animated form she is still Beyonce).
And it even has some interesting story elements: the whole thing about how MK’s father alienated his wife; the feelings Ronin and Tara have for each other, which the straight-laced Ronin doesn’t want to acknowledge. The voice work isn’t bad — Christoph Waltz is just so perfect in the role of Evil Guy Who Talks Too Much I understand why the movie couldn’t resist having him essentially give his Inglourious Basterds performance again. Beyonce is kind of the perfect cartoon fairy princess-type. And somehow the matching of Farrell’s illustrated character with his voice is spot on. I didn’t even mind the groundlings-bait of Ansari and O’Dowd’s characters.
But Epic does not work.
Reason #1: Many of the things mentioned above are either used poorly or set up and then ignored.
Reason #2: In lieu of quality of plot, the movie seems to have settled for quantity of plot. Most of what is described above is packed into, I think, just the first 20 to 25 minutes, with the rest of the movie being equally overstuffed.
Reason #3: Related to #2 — I mentioned some of the movie’s other elements, but there are a lot more things going on in each scene. Normally, this might be good, it might feel like a world that has been given texture. In this case, it feels like the movie-makers didn’t know when to stop adding, just, stuff — characters and rules (“the scrolls say the magical thing has to happen like X because if it happens like Y some terrible Z thing will also happen”) and backstory (but not, strangely, in some of the places I would have liked it).
Reason #4: With maybe one exception, the more central a character is to the story, the less interesting that character is.
Reason #5: I still have no idea why it’s called “Epic.”
Reason # 6: Or what kind of creature a “Boggan” is.
I could go on (much like the movie does, for an hour and 42 minutes, at least 20 minutes longer than a movie like this needed to go on — Reason # 7). But on a fundamental level, the movie just does not have It, the sparkly, magical thing that all movies should have but that kids’ movies in particular need to have to make them worth sitting still for. Epic has wonderful visuals but it does not have warmth or charm or loveableness. It is overworked and underdone and just not, in the end, that epic. C
Rated PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language. Directed by Chris Wedge with a screenplay by James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (based on the book The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce), Epic is an hour and 42 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.