Epic review

The director behind Ice Age and the underrated Robots returns with Epic. Here's Simon's review of a familiar animated adventure...

It seems that, right now, fathers and daughters just aren’t destined to get along in animated movies. The likes of The Croods, Hotel Transylvania and a chunk of the most recent Ice Age film centred their emotional crux on such a family relationship in need of repair. Now you can add Epic to the list, too.

In this case, there’s an unseen tragedy that’s the catalyst for bringing Mary Katherine – MK – back into the world of her father, Professor Bomba. The death of MK’s mother leads her to the home of her dad- a place that looks like “termites holding hands” – where she discovers that he’s just as engrossed in his work as he always was.

As if he’d been reading a copy of Michael Crichton’s Micro, the Professor is convinced that in the forest there’s a whole ecosystem of tiny people. The world, including his daughter, thinks he’s mad, father and daughter fall out, they then… ah, you’ve got the basic ingredients to sketch this one together. And it’s a problem with Epic that your first guess isn’t likely to be wide of the mark. At all.

It’s not that the central relationship doesn’t feel like it matters, though: it’s decently laid out, and convincing enough. But it does feel as though Epic doesn’t try to deepen or vary this element of the film enough. Instead, the effort has gone into other areas. The best characters, for instance, are found around the side of the story rather than in the middle of it (only the character of MK, of the leads, feels in any way substantive). An ageing dog with a number of ailments proves to be surprisingly sweet, whilst the transformation of a seemingly cute little mouse into something more sinister is expertly done, but then soon gone.

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Then, there’s the scene-stealing duo of slug and snail, Mub and Grub. Responsible for a generous number of good, healthy laughs, they have the same impact on Epic as Scrat the Squirrel does in previous Blue Sky Studios Ice Age movies. That the film significantly lifts whenever they turn up becomes more evident as Epic continues.

In the middle of the movie, though, things are a lot less interesting. We get noble warriors fighting to protect the forest, a totally forgettable villain (even more surprisingly, given that he’s voiced by Christoph Waltz), and a story that never really sticks in the mind. That said, there are some engaging action sequences. Furthermore, the Star Wars-esque finale, whilst trumped by any rewatch of the last third of How To Train Your Dragon, is fun and exciting.

Credit must go to the visual design here though. Epic often feels a delight to simply look at, such is the realisation of the forest world we spend most of the film in. It’s dripping with details, effort and artistic talent, and the thought of a second movie in this world, perhaps making more of it, is no bad thought.

It’s frustrating, though. At times, Epic comes up with really interesting ideas – such as the notion that the forest world and the ‘big’ world move at slightly different speeds (although even that, I’ve since learned, is an idea that Hayao Miyazaki has talked about in the past) – and when it employs and plays with them, it carves out a semblance of an identity for itself beyond the sheer look of the film. But it’s the storytelling that flattens it. Granted, timing hasn’t been in Epic‘s favour, but while parts of the film feel injected by a drive to push things that bit harder, the narrative drives over too familiar terrain, by a too familiar route, exiting your brain within an hour at most.

Appreciating that the film’s title no doubt has headline writers somewhere primed and ready, the truth is that ‘It’ll Just About Do’ is the more appropriate moniker. That doesn’t fit quite as snugly on a poster, though…

Epic is out in UK cinemas on the 22nd May.

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Rating:

3 out of 5