An Attractively Animated Abnormally Average Adventure
Blue Sky Studios rarely receives the type of hype that surrounds Pixar/ Disney or DreamWorks yet if you think about it; these guys were around from the beginning. Their first big CG feature film (Ice Age) came out way back in 2002 and they followed that up with a whole host of Ice Age sequels and spin offs, Horton Hears a Who, Robots, Rio and now Epic.
Like Disney’s Meet the Robinsons and DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians before it, Epic is based upon one of William Joyce’s art-centric books, in this case “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs”.
I’ve got to get the most significant out of the way first- the film is absolutely beautiful. From textures to particle effects to color pallet and lighting, Epic sets all kinds of benchmarks in the potential of computer generated imaging. Some of the many forest settings and even the human character models come off as so life-like as to demand a double take to be certain some live action photography hadn’t been snuck into the piece. However, lush visuals do not a perfect film make and Epic isn’t without its flaws but we’ll get to all that.
Epic tells of a lonely human teen MK (Amanda Seyfried), forced to live with her eccentric (but annoyingly goofy) father in the wake of her mother’s passing who, by a series of events, becomes shrunk by a fairy queen to aid a group of magical forest dwellers in their battle against decay-spreading bad guys called Boggans.
Once shrunk down to microscopic proportions, the viewer is introduced to a whole host of standard issue fantasy archetypes: A beautiful queen with a noble heart and magical powers Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), a veteran warrior Ronin (Collin Farrell) tasked with the tutelage of immature and irresponsible young warrior & Nod for MK’s flirting needs (Josh Hutcherson). We get attempts of comic relief in the form of a snail and slug tag team voiced by Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari respectively. The villains are copy and pasted bad guys (led by Christopher Waltz as Mandrake) and lack any sort of motivation or backstory. All you need to know is that they represent death and decay while the good guys (the Leafmen) represent growth and renewal.
It would be very fair to say that while Epic commits no major crimes across its 103-minute runtime, it also takes no chances and introduces nothing memorable or enduring to the genre either. Younger viewers will be likely be far more forgiving due to the whimsical nature of the setting and characters but the screenplay really does the film no favors by falling victim to just about every cliché in the book. Couple this to the fact that a lack of backstory really leaves countless unanswered questions to ponder. Among these: Is this struggle of life versus decay limited to this particular forest or are such tiny battling sprites in every forest around the world? How did the Boggans obtain the power of death initially and, while they acknowledge the existence of balance as being crucial, what motivates them to attempt to upset a balance that has presumably existed since the dawn of time.
Again, this might be existential ponderings that will never cross the intended demographics’ collective mind but it does contribute to the nagging sensation that this film wasn’t created out of passion and inspiration so much as it was manufactured; created by committees to hit all the right notes at exactly the right times. It succeeds, like it should, in a few segments but never does it fully shake the feeling that it’s all been recycled either.
Danny Elfman’s score isn’t quite the soaring whimsical composure we’ve come to expect from him but it is serviceable and an end-credits song from Beyonce’ is entirely forgettable.
In all the visuals alone make this one worth checking out and it does bring an hour-and-a-half’s worth of adventure to the screen with a hardy dose of panache. Sadly hints of what this one could have been continually make their presence felt and that’s the real tragedy here.