Film Review: “Epic”

 

Director Chris Wedge’s (“Ice Age”) new animated film “Epic” is a visually spectacular movie. It’s easily one of the most gorgeous films so far this year: The trees sway in the wind, the light filters through branches and when magical things happen in the film, they look magical. Even the characters are beautiful. If “A Bug’s Life” had fashion models, these tiny creatures would be them. (Hello, Beyonce.) Blue Sky Studios — the people who brought you the “Ice Age” franchise — have crafted something that is aesthetically stunning.

However, “Epic” feels a bit like a remake of 1992’s “FernGully,” albeit slightly more interesting and, well, epic than that. A city girl, Mary-Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried, of “Dear John” and “Mamma Mia” fame), goes to reconnect with her estranged father, who spends his time trying to prove the existence of the tiny forest folk. It turns out that her father, voiced by Jason Sudeikis (“Saturday Night Live”), isn’t crazy after all, proven when Mary-Katherine accidentally gets shrunken down to the size of these “leaf men.” What follows is a fairly standard adventure that involves saving both the forest and Mary-Katherine’s broken relationship with her father. There’s a fairly ineffectual villain played by Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”) who tries to turn the forest into rot, a foolhardy flying ace, Mary-Katherine’s love interest, Nod (played by Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games”) and, of course, incredibly annoying sidekicks of the post-“Shrek” era trope who pipe up with cliched, misappropriated modern slang.

The actors are serviceable, although perhaps the only standout character is Colin Farrell (“Alexander,” “In Bruges”) as the stalwart General Ronin. He’s so much more capable than our protagonists as a seasoned Leafmen warrior that you wonder why a Tinkerbell-sized teen and her cohorts are really necessary at all. In addition, the bumbling father character and his three-legged dog provide a good amount of both heartstring-tugging and comedic relief. Otherwise, everyone turns in an enjoyable performance, especially when it looks as lush and life-like as it does. 

The design work is great – the Leafmen wear armor that is part-samurai, part-Celtic warrior and sit atop hummingbirds with tiny saddles. The locations all look nearly photorealistic; where most 3-D feels as if it turns the characters into cutouts on an otherwise flat plane (when it does anything at all), with “Epic”  the audience feels like they could actually walk into the enormous forest on display. If given the chance to see this in the 3-D format, take it. 

Aside from a bland story, perhaps the other major fault that the filmmakers stumble into is talking down to their audience. It’s frustrating to find that many animated filmmakers believe younger viewers aren’t smart enough to connect plot points, or, worse, assume that adults don’t make up a part of their audience. Fortunately, this film only really There’s one scene in the first part of the film that features a mother literally explaining to her child what’s going on in the scene, even though the film itself has already told the audience the story. 

While it has its faults, “Epic” is a solid adventure film. Visually, it’s Academy Award material. While it has a relatively bland plot, it sprinkles the proceedings with enough honesty, laughs and flourish that it’s worth a watch. It’s miles above many other animated films that have come out in recent years, and it’s much better for families than films like “Escape from Planet Earth” and “The Smurfs 2” that somehow keep popping up in theaters. If you’re looking to see some of the most stunning animation this side of Pixar, then you’re in for a treat

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