20th Century Fox Animation
1 hour, 42 minutes
There is a moment in this week’s ecology-lite animated adventure flick, “Epic” when both my 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter turned to me and exclaimed, “Dad, this is the best movie ever!” I don’t even remember what the moment was — whether the giant bat/hummingbird battle, the dragonfly airlift of the Queen’s chariot, or simply the comic-relief slug, but whatever it entailed, the scene was enough to send my two toddlers over the edge. And really, what more are you looking for in a movie like this?
“Epic,” revolves around the grand struggle between good and evil, or in this case, growth and decay, that goes on all over the natural world. The Leaf Men, an army of green armored heroes, battle it out with the Boggins, a race of creepy, vaguely beast-like villains who thrive on rot and death.
As the film opens, we are introduced to Nod, a novice Leaf Man who is chafing at the authority imposed by his stern, humorless commander, Ronin. Ronin also just happens to be Nod’s foster guardian, taking up that responsibility after the death of his best friend, Nod’s father. These characters are pretty stock, but Colin Farrell, as the elder and Josh Hutcherson, as the cocky hothead, voice the characters with the appropriate amount of gravity and/or goofy bravado, as the part requires.
Ronin, in addition to schooling young Nod, has other things to worry about. The Queen of the Forest is his one true love, and, as this is the one day in 100 years when she has to choose a new queen, there’s sure to be Boggins-a-plenty to deal with. Keep in mind that this drama is all playing out at the level of just under two inches.
In the human world, there’s a daffy professor who’s convinced he’s found evidence of a hidden civilization living among the foliage, and his woefully pragmatic daughter, M.K., who’s convinced her father’s lost his marbles. But when M.K. is magically miniaturized, she changes her tune, but quick. The rest of the plot’s a jumble of mystical mayhem involving a full-moon, a prophesy, a magical bud and a whole host of crazy characters, but it’s not exactly difficult to figure out how it’s all going to turn out.
I enjoyed “Epic,” despite a host of problems. Earlier I referred to the film as ecology-lite, and that’s pretty much right on the money. Unlike heavy hitters like “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Avatar,” or even “Ferngully,” “Epic” only pretends at having an ecological message. In fact, other than “friends stick together,” I’m not sure it rounds out with much of a moral at all.
What struck me right off the bat was that, though the Boggins are definitely evil, they are performing a necessary service by fomenting rot and decay. This level of discussion is never even hinted at. “Epic” is a movie where green is good and black is bad — end of story. OK — that’s fine, and the overly complicated mystical magical plot is fine, too. Not every movie has to teach or, as my son refers to them, be “learny.”
What “Epic” isn’t, and this makes up for a lot, is obnoxious. This film is the latest effort from the Blue Sky Animation house, the geniuses who brought us the “Ice Age” movies and “Rio.” I know many people like these films, but “Ice Age” is, in my opinion, mind-numbingly dumb, and “Rio” though it has nice visuals, is borderline at best. “Epic” leaves most of the lowbrow stuff at the door, cleverly giving the comedy bits to a snail and a slug, two creatures who can bring just enough of the gross-out, without ever having to resort to a single fart joke. Actually the humor, especially from the slug Mub, voiced by Aziz Ansari, is pretty good — playful and smart without being too grating.
What “Epic” lacks in good science, it certainly makes up for with inventive and beautiful visuals. The attention to detail is amazing, and I definitely foresee the publication of a full-color coffee table book with large, glossy close-ups of the Leaf Men’s hummingbird saddles and the Boggins’ rodent-bone armor.
As well, I appreciated that the filmmakers’ were willing to open up what was feeling like a pretty insular little story, giving it a little grander feel. Instead of the entirety of the miniature world consisting of Leaf Men fighting Boggins, we discover a whole society of critters, including some for whom the war is just something they hear about on occasion, not the focus of existence. The scene I’m thinking of is a small one, a rural sparrow race where a corrupt toad is attempting to fix the outcome. It’s not particularly important, but I was glad it was in there because it gave this small movie a little bit of scale.
For the younger set, “Epic” is an adventure of truly epic proportions, but I was just happy it wasn’t an epic chore.
“Epic” is rated PG for a few mildly scary scenes, cartoon violence, and several instances of death which might stress sensitive youngsters.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.