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Review: Epic – Animated adventure not without its ‘bugs’

Posted by on May 24, 2013 – 12:01 am

EpicIf you are fascinated by hummingbirds (And who isn’t?), then imagine how cool it would be if those miraculous little creatures were flown by tiny warriors whose job it is to protect the forest from harm. That’s the premise of the new computer-animated film, Epic, which is based on the William Joyce children’s book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.

It’s a bold move to use a grandiose adjective like “Epic” as the name of your movie and you are guaranteed to open yourself up to criticism if you fail to deliver on that titular statement. I will concede that the beautiful and meticulous animation in this film is on a grand scale, but the basic story is pretty much your average ‘angry-teen-saves-the-world’ cartoon.

Mary Katherine, or “M.K.” as she prefers to be called, is a young woman in her late teens who has recently lost her mother and is now forced to live with her estranged father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), in his home/laboratory that is located on the edge of a vast forest.

The wacky Professor Bomba is convinced that the woods are populated by tiny people and his crazy obsession with proving this theory has broken up his marriage and put a wedge between him and his daughter. But just as M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) is ready to run away from her new home, she has a run-in with the mystical “Queen” of the forest (Beyoncé Knowles), who is wounded by an enemy arrow; and as the Queen dies, Mary Katherine is magically shrunk down to the same size as the tiny forest citizens.

M.K. soon finds herself in the middle of fight between the Leaf Men, who are the guardians of the forest, and the Boggans, who are nasty little creatures who just want to make the forest rot and decay. The Leaf Men look like humans, but with leaf attire and battle armor. I’m not sure exactly what form of life the Boggans are supposed to be, but they resemble frogs, or some other sort of reptile, with shark-like heads and teeth.

EpicThe Boggans are led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and the Leaf Men army is guided by Ronin (Colin Farrell), and when Mandrake’s son, Dagda (Blake Anderson), is killed in battle, the maniacal little tyrant swears vengeance against the forest protectors.

In the midst of an all-out war between the good and bad factions, M.K. and her new Leaf Warrior friend, Nod (Josh Hutcherson), must transport a flower bud, which holds the new Queen’s essence, to a caterpillar called Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler), a Wizard of Oz like character who will allegedly know how to extract the Queen’s spirit.

M.K. and Nod are accompanied by a slug with an attitude, Mub (Aziz Ansari), and a snail, Grub (Chris O’Dowd), which means, I believe, that animated animal characters in movies have now reached the bottom of the food chain – with the Steven Tyler “Nim” character’s song & dance number being the absolute bottom.  (Where is Earthworm Jim when you need him?) For a slug, though, Ansari’s Mub character steels the show as he is infatuated with M.K. and becomes irate when anyone else looks her way – very weird, but funny.

There are parts of this film that felt like Lord of the Rings meets Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. I was very impressed by the detail that went into the battle sequences of this film and it is probably worth re-watching just to see the parts you will most certainly miss with just one viewing due to the huge amount of action on screen. The aerial fight sequences, between the Leaf Men riding various birds and Boggans on crows and bats, are also amazing.

EpicThe voice talent in Epic is well suited for the most part, with the exception of singers Beyoncé and Tyler, whose modern, street-savvy, soulful voices seemed out of place in what is an otherwise medieval styled tale of good versus evil.  It’s strange that although I like a lot of Steven Tyler’s music with the band Aerosmith (circa the 1970’s records at least), I really disliked his voice in this movie and that he was also my biggest issue with The Polar Express, where his short cameo almost ruins the movie.

With the exception of Tyler’s ill-suited blues number in the middle of the film, the rest of the Danny Elfman composed score was very enjoyable. Epic is directed by Chris Wedge of Ice Age fame (he is also the voice of Ice Age’s Scrat character) and it was written by a number of screenwriters including the book’s author, William Joyce, who also wrote and illustrated the children’s book, The Guardians of Childhood, upon which last winter’s animated Rise of the Guardians film was based.

I think the tween crowd thru adults who enjoy fantasy will have a good time at this movie, but I’m not convinced very young children, who typically don’t appreciate the art behind the animation, are going to be tolerable of the lulls in the action. Overall this is a fine family film, but not one that lives up to its lofty title. Grade: 7.5/10 

Photos © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation