Epic, Review

A feel-good throwback for the whole family...

As the seemingly most PR friendly adjective in modern times, the word “epic” gets thrown around a lot. And by a lot, I mean that my cereal box this morning exclaimed the healthy goodness inside was EPIC! Thus, when I saw the phrase, inevitably, being slapped onto the title of an upcoming animated family film, I understandably remained a bit skeptical. How truly epic can a movie be when its trailer’s greatest selling point is a parade of celebrities? Topping off the list with a coveted “and Beyoncé Knowles” couldn’t help either. How truly bizarre that so much effort was put into making this look like a run-of-the-mill animated comedy, when in fact it is so much more: a pleasing entertainment for the whole family. Epic is mainly the tale of Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), a wise beyond her years teenager who now goes by the name “MK” because it’s cooler. After her mother dies of some vague cause (we are not meant to dwell on it), MK is forced to live in a cluttered house out in the forest with her estranged father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Despite trying to reconnect with the eccentric father and his ancient, three-legged dog, Ozzie, MK finds herself neglected and ignored by a papa more intrigued by his theories about woodland warriors than with his own flesh and blood. Professor Bomba hypothesizes that in the vast forest around his home, there is an advanced race of pixie-sized warriors doing battle with evil forces. MK just thinks he’s an embarrassing nut who fell VERY FAR from the family tree. But that all changes one afternoon when she meets Queen Tara (Beyoncé), an ant-sized matriarch in need of some assistance. It turns out that the forest people do exist and Tara presides over this idyllic, emerald culture with the help and protection of the green-armored Leaf Men, led by the weary Ronin (Colin Farrell). After Tara’s life is threatened by the evil forces of rot, known as Boggans, MK is cut down to size in order to save these woodland critters from a dreary fate. And she just might meet a cute guy along the way.  While based on William Joyce’s The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, Fox Animation’s effort feels more like a sweet-natured amalgamation of popular tropes from the past and present. Director Chris Wedge envisions the life of the Leaf Men as a green and brown blur of pastel colored splendor that could pass for an Avatar sequel. Likewise, the lead leafers, Ronin and Nod (Josh Hutcherson), wield their bows like the best of them in pop culture right now (perhaps, Hutcherson was jealous of Katniss?). The movie even has a retro eco-allegory right out of FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). Millennials are going to get all warm and fuzzy. However, it ultimately comes together because of a genuine effort to make this a story about a regular girl transported to this wacky Never Never Land. Seyfried’s vocal performance brings just the right amount of wonder and bemusement as the audience’s proxy into this fantasy. If it were just 90 minutes of Leaf Men versus Boggans, I have my doubts that it could sustain interest for anyone over the ages of 10. But the delicate, if glossy, themes about a daughter and her father give enough grounding to the magical proceedings to let us care if the greeneries are allowed to bloom. Of course, the mission is all the easier with so many colorful side characters. Nod is kind of a non-entity as the “bad boy” Leaf Man teenager who doesn’t want to conform, but Farrell’s Ronin is surprisingly endearing as a father figure for both of the troubled youths in the film. Plus, all three’s penchant for exposition and declarations on the importance of nature is mercifully undercut by gooey comedy sidekicks Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O’Dowd). Playing a slug and a snail, the two literally slime their way across the screen throughout the heroic quest. Aziz especially brings a greasy sense of fun as the slug who wears no shell because “it just slows me down,” particularly when he is making the moves on MK and dagger-eyes at Nod.  However, for all its harmless fun and gnarly visuals, Epic never quite reaches the height of its namesake. While the battles may be intended to invoke James Cameron or Peter Jackson, they are undercut by a glaring problem….What exactly is a Boggan? I understand that they feed off rot and are led by a dastardly big bad voiced by Christoph Waltz, but WHAT ARE THEY? What do they want? It seems they are after Queen Tara and later MK just because the awesome Leaf Men need somebody to fight. By the time the third act becomes a dizzying display of CGI pyrotechnics between the Leaf Men on their hummingbirds and the Boggans on their bats, I am realizing that the rot they truly grow from is the one within the screenplay. But does it really matter? Epic features a few other inconsistencies, such as an over-stacked cast of celebrity voices, including a few whose acting chops are not a halo around the film (ahem). Yet, even if Epic is not quite the animated show piece it aims for, it is still a movie that should satisfy almost any family looking for entertainment this Memorial Day that does not involve a giraffe being decapitated or Vin Diesel and the Rock’s face’s being two inches apart while they “fight.”  Epic is a pleasing return to the animated films of yore where a story about growing up or accepting one’s family in an extraordinary world could carry a film further than an onslaught of endless pop culture jokes and self-aware smirks. For that reason alone, it deserves its multiplex space to branch out. Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


3 out of 5