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Based on the William Joyce story The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, Blue Sky Studios’ Epic is the story of ordinary teenager Mary Katherine (MK for short, voiced by it girl Amanda Seyfried), who moves back home to live with her estranged father (Jason Sudeikis, clearly channeling Rick Moranis) after the untimely death of her mother. MK and her father don’t exactly see eye-to-eye, with her father stuck in his work almost all of the time (he’s researching the mythical tiny Leafmen soldiers who guard the forest from evil, much to the skeptical chagrin of everyone else in his life). Meanwhile, the evil Mandrake (voice of Christoph Waltz), plans to take over the forest from Queen Tara (voice of Beyonce Knowles, in a dreamlike performance) and her Leafmen soldiers, led by the stoic Ronin (voice of Colin Farrell), who sees himself as a father figure to impetuous young Nod (voice of Josh Hutcherson). In a bit of magical circumstance, MK is shrunk down to the size of the leaf men, and must join them on their journey to save the forest.
There is definitely some charm in Epic. There are quite a few engaging moments in the film as well, including the journey MK, Nod, Ronin, and Mub and Grub (a slug and a snail, voice of Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd, who are great) take to save the forest from the Boggans (the evil creatures who dwell within the forest). The sense of adventure in these scenes lends a hefty weight to the film, which is otherwise a mere trifle in a lot of places. Mub and Grub are also surprisingly funny, and steal the show to some extent. I could definitely see the two of them being the Scrat from Ice Age of this movie. Additionally, Christoph Waltz’s villainous Mandrake, the leader of the Boggans, is great and clearly having a good time hamming it up as the voice of the villain. There are some moments of actual suspense involving Mandrake, which is genuinely nice to see in a product for kids. I was pretty shocked at just how ruthless, evil, and gross they went with the character.
Unfortunately, the movie ultimately plays things just a bit too safe with its story and characters. There are some bizarre celebrity cameo voices (Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, really? Pitbull, why?) and at least one musical number that feels totally out of place in the context of the film. Certain elements of the story also feel totally underdeveloped (especially the relationship between Mandrake and his son and how it mirrors the relationship between Ronin and Nod). The script could definitely have used a layer of polish to make things like this more significant. Additionally, while I found the scenery to be lush and gorgeous and the film well-animated on the whole (and the Leafmen look especially cool), Epic still doesn’t look as good as the films that other studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks put out (to be fair though, Blue Sky tends to work with budgets that are significantly lower than other studios). Blue Sky has yet to reach the heights of their rival studios, but that doesn’t mean Epic doesn’t look good – it looks great in some places and fine in most others.
The latest computer-animated film from Blue Sky Studios definitely doesn’t live up to the literal definition of its title, but it doesn’t really need to either. Epic needs only to entertain, and it succeeds on that level at least. There’s plenty to like about Epic, including a great sense of adventure, some good humorous moments, solid voice acting (particularly Waltz), cool character designs (bring on the Leafmen action figures!) and lush scenery. It probably won’t be the best computer-animated film released this year (I would say it’s slightly better than March’s The Croods however), but it was a pretty decent time at the theater over all. Blue Sky has long been criticized for releasing this exact type of film – not great, but passable entertainment for both kids and adults. I had somewhat high hopes Epic would break-out and be their defining film as a studio, but that just isn’t the case. Still, there’s some good in this film and the end product is somewhat admirable. Check it out for the sense of adventure, but don’t expect greatness.