By: Paul Zecharia | www.stonesdetroit.com
Ever wondered what the forest would be like if it were made of little people? Well, Epic is hear to take audiences on a journey into a world of imagination and puniness. Blue Sky Studios, the animation company that has brought us Robots, Horton Hears A Who!, Rio, and of course the Ice Age series, brings us a picture that is heavy on creative visuals and a compelling environment, but sadly a formulaic story and way too many celebrity voices. It also features a heavy environmental theme of saving the forest and all that mumbo-jumbo that you’ve heard many times before in other films. If anything, Epic should remind you of films like FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Avatar. But I would say that Epic is a less annoying remake of FernGully. That still does not excuse it from being merely a simplistic story. If anything, Epic may not grab the attention of average movie-going families in the way that other major animation studios like Disney and DreamWorks do with their films. But just for an hour and a half of eye-candy and visual spectacles, it can be considered harmless, but forgettable. Unless you are a big fan of Blue Sky Studios. And if you’re under the age of 10.
The story takes place in a forest where it is inhabited by little people called Leafmen. They are led by Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) and the Leafmen warriors are led by Ronin (Colin Farrell), who is also in love with the queen. There is also has a young and inexperienced rookie warrior named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), whom Ronin takes under his wing. They also face an evil group of warriors in the forest called Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his son Dagda (Blake Anderson). Their goal is to wipe out the entire forest and leave it in darkness. There’s also a side villain called Bufo (Pitbull), a bullfrog who’s also a businessman. The civilization of the tiny people in the forest (now that I think about it, this actually sounds very silly) is soon discovered by a seventeen-year-old girl named Mary Katherine, or M.K. (Amanda Seyfried). Her story involves her moving back in with her estranged father Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) after her mother’s death. Bomba is an eccentric scientist who has been trying to prove the existence of the little forest people for a long time. During a battle in the forest, M.K. finds herself being shrunken down to the size of the Leafman by a fatally wounded Queen Tara and is tasked with delivering a pod to a glowworm named Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler) in hopes bring the forest back to life and to name a new Queen. She is aided by Ronin, Nod, a slug named Mub (Aziz Ansari), and a snail named Grub (Chris O’Dowd).
Wow, talk about star power. Did director Chris Wedge feel it was so necessary to incorporate all these pointless celebrity voices into his rather artistically impressive-looking children’s film? Well, of course the bigger names you have, the more people you are guaranteed to put into theater seats. While most of the voice actors are not terrible, they do not add anything creative to enhance their performances. One of the biggest disappointments is the casting of Christoph Waltz as the villain. I will watch the incredible two-time Oscar winner in any role, but due to the weak and generic dialogue, his performance as Mandrake is perhaps one of the most forgettable animated villains of all time. Why were Pitbull, and Steven Tyler in this film? Their voices are so distinct that it is incredibly distracting to see them as the characters they are voicing. Ansari and O’Dowd are the obvious comic relief duo, but they do not have many humorous things to say. The same thing can be said for Sudeikis, who I think was trying too hard to deliver his unfunny lines.
Epic was based on the children’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs” by William Joyce, who also wrote “The Guardians of Childhood” series, which were later adapted into DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians. And that got me thinking that maybe if this project had been taken to DreamWorks Animation, there may have been more creativity and imagination instilled into it. Even if the story is too familiar, it could still make for a more entertaining and visually impressive piece with much more creative value to both the story and setting. A prime example would be The Croods, released earlier this year. One of the major issues of Epic is that not only was Joyce credited as screenwriter, but he was joined by four more screenwriters: James V. Hart, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle, and Matt Ember. This is an overload writers penning a story with not only too much going on, but all too familiar and formulaic. There also does not seem to be any strong emotional connections with any of the characters because there are just nothing but archetypes with predictable story arcs. One arc in particular that astounded me was how M.K. actually wanted her crazy father to stop chasing his dreams of finding the tiny people in the forest. That just seems way too unpleasant for a father-daughter relationship in an animated film.
But despite the many downfalls of Epic, the more positive notices have to do with the visuals. The way the film is put together and presented shows that it was made for obvious 3D. But you know what? It is pretty damn good for 3D. You will literally feel like you are being transported into this magical forest. The imagery and environment create an atmosphere that almost seems forgiving of the lackluster storyline. The animation is beautiful. Even though it takes place in the forest, where pretty much everything is green, there is enough color and texture that will most likely attract the attention adults rather than children. There are scenes where the Leafman are flying on birds and the simulation of motion in the air is downright impressive. It’s almost very similar to the motion used in DreamWorks animated films. But somewhere in this creative world, there must be a more creative story. A setting of this caliber should not be void of any good ideas rather than just good green people vs. evil people who want to make everything dark. And even though several voice actor choices are questionable, other actors like Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, and Beyonce are able to be nice and natural with their performances.
For an animated film that does not live up to the title Epic, it is pretty sad. Maybe there were just way too many characters and story that everything could not balance out. If the filmmakers wanted focus, maybe just one story with minor subplots would have sufficed. This is not supposed to live up to the magic of Disney and Pixar films or the wit of DreamWorks films. I believe Blue Sky Studios has a long way to go to actually make a real name for themselves in the world of animation, despite that Ice Age was released in 2002. They at least have more imagination than the quality-void Illumination Entertainment, the company responsible for trash like Despicable Me and The Lorax. Epic receives a barely passing grade because I do believe there was certainly ambition behind this project. With its environmental themes, it should receive special praise for not being as preachy as I had anticipated. But for next time, this can be better accomplished without the usage of five screenwriters and not using celebrities just for the sake of using celebrities. I expected much better from a film with Aziz Ansari as a slug. But my eyes certainly were not bored.
Three out of five stars.
Epic is rated PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language.
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