May 25, 2013

Epic

starstar

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Epic

ANIMATED:

United States, 2013

U.S. Release Date:

2013-05-24

Running Length:

1:40

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

(voices) Amanda Seyfried, Jason Sudeikis, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Beyonce Knowles, Steven Tyler

Director:

Chris Wedge

Screenplay:

William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember, and James V. Hart, based on the book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce

Cinematography:

Renato Falcao

Music:

Danny Elfman

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


Generic and forgettable - those are the two words that immediately come to mind to describe Chris Wedge's first solo outing as an animated feature film director. (With Carlos Saldanha, he created Ice Age). What makes matters worse is that Epic isn't just a mediocre family film, it's a mediocre kids' film. Although the basic story is too juvenile and simplistic to entertain anyone with an age in the double-digit range, the themes and underlying ideas are too complicated to capture the attention of someone younger. Young children are as likely to be bored as engaged by the mundane, repetitive action. The 3-D may keep them interested and there are a few pretty animated sequences but the movie as a whole feels rushed and unremarkable. Its placement in the summer box office sweepstakes indicates that Fox has little faith in the product.

The story proposes that there's far more to the world's microcosmos than we suppose. In fact, the forests of the world are inhabited not only by birds, small mammals, and bugs, but by two-inch tall human-like beings who are locked in an unending battle between life and decay. The "good guys" are led by Queen Tara (voice of Beyonce Knowles), her captain of the guard, Ronin (Colin Farrell), and the brash youngster Nod (Josh Hutcherson). The "bad guys" are headed by the malevolent Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), whose life's ambition is to strip away all the green from the forest. Meanwhile, there are a couple of normal sized humans who enter the story: teenager Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) and her bumbling naturalist father, Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Through magical means, Mary Katherine makes like Dorothy and enters the Lilliputian Oz of the Forest where she becomes instrumental in the war between Ronin's Leaf Men and Mandrake's boggins. And, in the process, she falls in love with Nod.

Epic is exactly the wrong title for this movie but on the list of things it does wrong, that's near the bottom. The screenplay, which is credited to about a half-dozen writers and was adapted from a children's book, is plodding and uneven, with no surprises and little to engage or excite a thinking viewer. It also takes forever for things to come into focus with an elapsed time of nearly 30 minutes before Mary Katherine finally gets cut down to size. Children may gain some enjoyment out of the action sequences but, perhaps because I've seen a few too many animated films, I found them all familiar and uninspired. From a technical standpoint, there's nothing wrong with the crafting of Epic. The animation is adequate, the voice acting is fine (although the only one coming close to "standout" recognition is Colin Farrell), and the 3-D is surprisingly smooth (the dimness problem has been solved, although there are instances when the image blurs). It's just that everything is so underwhelming and by-the-numbers that it's tough to get excited. Even those who enjoy the movie are likely to forget about it soon after.

Epic offers some interesting ideas about the necessity of a balance between decay and rebirth in nature; unsurprisingly, not much is done in the way of developing these. The romance is especially awkward and creates some borderline icky possibilities at the end that only someone outside the target audience would contemplate. Also, although Bomba is voiced by Jason Sudeikis, the rendering of the character bears such a striking resemblance to Sean Penn (in full-nerd mode) that it couldn't be a coincidence (although I'm not sure what that means).

Having a three-year old in the house has exposed me to more TV animation that I ever wanted to see and, while the technical qualities of Epic are vastly superior, the level of storytelling isn't. Given the dearth of material currently available in theaters for the under-ten crowd, it's hard to argue that Epic doesn't fill a niche, but one can't help but regretting that it couldn't have been more. Why do studios believe that kids' movies must automatically be dumb and unremarkable? That, I think is more a reflection of the people making the films than their intended audience.

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