Like many other recent animated features, Epic leaves the viewer shaking his
head, saddened at the thought of the many artists who worked so hard to create
something ultimately unworthy of their talents. It’s not a disaster or an
embarrassment like Hoodwinked or Barnyard, but given the experience and
abilities of Chris Wedge and Blue Sky artists, it should be better.
Mary “M.K.” Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) joins her eccentric
father Professor Bomba in his laboratory-home after the death of her mother,
who’s mentioned only as a plot contrivance. Bomba has dedicated his life to
proving that miniature civilizations exist in nearby forest. When M.K. chases her
three-legged pug into the woods, she learns her father is right: There are two
mini-cultures. Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) of the Leafmen has just chosen the
mysterious pod that will bloom under the full moon of the solstice and continue
the Spirit of the Forest. Until then, the comics Mub the slug (Aziz Ansari) and
Grub the snail (Chris O’Dowd) must keep it most. When members of the nasty Boggans
tribe mortally wound the Queen, she somehow shrinks M.K. to bug size and
charges her with protecting the pod.
Working with M.K. are Ronin (Colin Farrell), the Queen’s stalwart
guard; irresponsible, rowdy Nod (Josh Hutcherson); and mellowed-out
caterpillar-librarian Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, apparently trying
to channel Jeff Bridges in The Big
Lebowski). King Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) leads the Boggans on an attack to
steal the pod, threatening the forest with destruction. M.K. helps recapture
the pod after the predictable reconciliation with her father. It’s hardly a
spoiler to reveal the pod opens and the new queen restores MK to her proper
The backgrounds are often striking handsome: The lush ferns
and flowers that open in patterns in the Leafman’s kingdom juxtapose nicely
with the dead trees, bolls and galls of the Boggans’ realm. Unfortunately, the
backgrounds are often more interesting
than what’s happening in front of them.
Although six people have story and/or screenplay credit, the
plot feels like pieces of other films insecurely stitched together. The secret miniature
world and its inhabitants recall Ferngully,
Ant Bully and other bug’s eye POV movies.
M.K. is yet another feisty red-haired heroine; her father Professor Bomba is a
cliche-ed idiot savant scientist who can’t see the problem right under his
nose. Although he’s not nearly as well animated, Nod looks and talks too much
like in Flynn in Tangled–yet another
dashing, undisciplined rogue with a heart of gold.
Nor is the story particularly well told. A horde of Boggans
swarms over Ronin during a battle, but
he re-appears several scenes later, brushing off a few scratches. How did he
get away? Comic gastropods shouldn’t trade playground insults during dramatic
scenes that are supposed to build tension. That’s Filmmaking 1A: Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern don’t interrupt Hamlet’s soliloquy.
But the biggest problem with the story is its misunderstanding
of the natural world. Except for a few throw-away lines from Mandrake at the
beginning, there’s no sense of the essential balance of nature. The Boggans and
the Leafmen aren’t irreconcilable enemies: Birth and growth can’t take place
without death and decay. Miyazaki suggested this principle succinctly in Princess Mononoke when each step of the
Deer-God’s hooves caused plants to arise, blossom and wither; The Lion King cited “the Circle of
shaking my head, saddened at the thought of the artists whose talents deserved
a more worthy project.