Film review: Epic

posted at 9:31 am on June 2, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Mary Katherine comes back to live with her father after her mother passes away — and she’s not anxious to see him.  Her father has been obsessed with proving the existence of a miniature world in the forest, which drove her and her mother away a few years earlier.  MK, as she likes to be called now that she’s almost old enough to be on her own, wants nothing to do with her father’s work, but after her dog runs out the door, MK runs into the very beings her father has been seeking.  Can she help save the forest and the Leafmen from the Boggans, who want to destroy it?

Epic had been described as something like Fern Gully meets Avatar, but that misses the mark in more than one way.  Epic avoids the cloying cuteness of Fern Gully and the sanctimony of Avatar — while completely lacking an agenda.  I found myself (pleasantly) shocked at the end when the film didn’t include sledgehammer messages on the environment, war, sexuality, diversity, or the heartbreak of psoriasis.  Epic tells its story for the story’s sake alone.  The closest the film gets to a message is the repeated phrase “Many leaves, but one tree” — a message of solidarity and commitment to community that could hardly be objectionable to anyone.

The plot of Epic begins with the less-than-epic, hoary broken-home-disaffected-teen setup mentioned above, but fortunately for the audience gets to the real plot quickly.  The Leafmen are about to select a new queen when the Boggans attack, hoping to disrupt the succession so that they can turn the whole forest into a dead, twisted fen.  MK happens to come along just at the right moment and gets shrunk to the size of the Leafmen and pressed into service.  She ends up paired with Nod, a young man who also has lost a parent, and Ronin, the commander of the Leafmen who has tried to mentor Nod.  None of what follows is exactly a stunning surprise, but the execution and characters are more original than I expected, and we get pulled into the Leafman/Boggan world very effectively. In the end — at least on the scale we inhabit through most of this film — it really is epic.

The most interesting characters in the film are Ronin (Colin Farrell), MK (Amanda Seyfried), and Mandrake (Christoph Waltz).  Mandrake in particular gets more of the fun lines as the snarky yet angry villain. Steve Tyler has a song number and significant screen time as Nim Galuu, a critical character to the plot and perhaps one of the more original characters in the film, and acquits himself well. Otherwise, much of the characters seem like they came right out of stock. Nod (Josh Hutcherson) is drawn to look almost exactly like Tangled’s Eugene/Flynn and acts like him most of the way through as well.  Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) felt like a plot device more than a character.  (Ironically, the Queen Tara character leads to an enormous plot hole which can’t be revealed without spoilers, but which becomes apparent at the climax of the film.)

Technically, Epic doesn’t break much new ground.  The animation at times looks a little more realistic than usual, and facial expressions look more natural.  While the forest sequences look attractive, they mostly don’t have an ooooh factor to them, and animation in some of the sequences looks almost old-fashioned.  Still, in this case the story is good enough to keep viewers interested.

But in order to truly gauge the worth of a children’s film, one has to take children to see it.  Although this was released last week, I waited until my granddaughters spent the weekend with us before watching the film.  The older granddaughter just turned 11 and was captivated by Epic.  She enjoyed the interaction between the characters, got most of the jokes, and the action had her full attention at all times.

However, the same cannot be said for my four-year-old granddaughter nor others of her age in the theater.  Epic also lives up to its name in intense sequences that are frightening to small children.  We heard several crying at times, and a couple of them had to be walked out of the theater by nonplussed parents. My youngest granddaughter proclaimed loudly a couple of times, “I don’t like this movie!”  Afterward, she told me, “I liked the good parts.”

I liked the good parts, too, and it had almost all good parts.  It’s a fun film if you have school-age kids who can handle intense situations and action, and thankfully Epic is one kid’s film that doesn’t try to beat you to death with an ideological stick.  That’s practically worth supporting with a ticket purchase on its own.  Using the 5-step scale we’ve adopted as of late, I’d say that Epic rates a 4.5 if you have kids to take, and a 3.5 otherwise:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

One note: We didn’t watch this in 3-D.  Once again, it did have a descriptive audio track for those with visual handicaps, such as my wife (who is totally blind), and the headphone system worked well for her.


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I found myself (pleasantly) shocked at the end when the film didn’t include sledgehammer messages on the environment, war, sexuality, diversity, or the heartbreak of psoriasis. Epic tells its story for the story’s sake alone. The closest the film gets to a message is the repeated phrase “Many leaves, but one tree” — a message of solidarity and commitment to community that could hardly be objectionable to anyone.

Not that I’ve seen it, but doesn’t the existence of an army of darkness kind carry it’s own message?

Count to 10 on June 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM

In all that, I’m trying to wrap my head around your oldest granddaughter being eleven. No way!

Cindy Munford on June 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM

Not that I’ve seen it, but doesn’t the existence of an army of darkness kind carry it’s own message?

Count to 10 on June 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM

With the “many leaves, one tree”, the message I’d get is that said tree has poisoned apples and you will either acknowledge them or get some very unpleasant surprises.

MelonCollie on June 2, 2013 at 9:58 AM

The next movie I want to see is Before Midnight. The problem is getting a damn theater in the Greater Houston area to start showing it.

As for Epic, I’ve already got it preordered on 3D Blu-ray. I’ll just wait til then to see it. I figure even if I don’t end up liking it, my almost 3 year-old will enjoy the flick. Then again, I assumed the same about Rise of the Guardians and he lost interest after about a half hour.

Doughboy on June 2, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Mary Katherine comes back to live with her father after her mother passes away — and she’s not anxious to see him.

Speaking of Mary Katherine, didn’t she used to write a few things for Hot Gas? Man, that would be great if she really did come back to life.

rogaineguy on June 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM

In all that, I’m trying to wrap my head around your oldest granddaughter being eleven. No way!

Cindy Munford on June 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM

I still can’t get over my baby brother being in middle school, and it doesn’t help at all that my job is literally up the street from my old high school. Nothing to make ya just feel so gosh-durned OLD like passing your alma mater every day to work.

MelonCollie on June 2, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Sounds good. I can’t see why movie makers have such a hard time putting universal themes, dualistic conflicts, and genuine good guys in their films. It only seems boring and formulaic until you’re forced to experience some of the weird, sadistic, and endlessly regurgitated sh!t that passes for cinema these days.

abobo on June 2, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Nothing to make ya just feel so gosh-durned OLD like passing your alma mater every day to work.

MelonCollie on June 2, 2013 at 10:01 AM

My sister’s five year old son just told her the other day that he’s “going to be a teenager and on his own soon, y’know:. She literally had a breakdown over it, lol. I can’t wait for the empty nest.

abobo on June 2, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Sounds good. I can’t see why movie makers have such a hard time putting universal themes, dualistic conflicts, and genuine good guys in their films. It only seems boring and formulaic until you’re forced to experience some of the weird, sadistic, and endlessly regurgitated sh!t that passes for cinema these days.

abobo on June 2, 2013 at 10:04 AM

The biggest complainers about such things as universal themes and genuinely good guys are leftists with an agenda or mush-headed, spoiled Westerners who don’t have the brains to appreciate just WHY we have a great society.

Universal definitions are like rat poison to people who think they have some right to change the definitions of everything from fairness to marriage to rights whenever it suits them. Good guys with human imperfections but not massive gaping flaws are a slap in the face to imbeciles who equate head-chopping barbarians with the churchgoer down the street.

MelonCollie on June 2, 2013 at 10:11 AM

Epic avoids the cloying cuteness of Fern Gully and the sanctimony of Avatar

should read:

Epic avoids the cloying cuteness and sanctinomy of Fern Gully and the sanctimony of Avatar

fixd

mintycrys on June 2, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Speaking of Mary Katherine, didn’t she used to write a few things for Hot Gas? Man, that would be great if she really did come back to life.

rogaineguy on June 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM

She was on vacation this week. She’s back tomorrow.

Ed Morrissey on June 2, 2013 at 10:13 AM

mintycrys on June 2, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Yeah, good point.

Ed Morrissey on June 2, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Epic avoids the cloying cuteness and sanctinomy of Fern Gully and the sanctimony of Avatar

fixd

mintycrys on June 2, 2013 at 10:12 AM

It’s been a long time sense I’ve seen Fern Gully, but I don’t really remember much in the way of cloying cuteness. I do remember dripping enviro-sanctimony, though.

Count to 10 on June 2, 2013 at 10:18 AM

(Ironically, the Queen Tara character leads to an enormous plot hole which can’t be revealed without spoilers, but which becomes apparent at the climax of the film.)

I’m embarrassed to say that I think I missed this. I’m taking my twins to see it again today (one of them was not able to attend our first viewing), so I’ll look for it. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what the hole could be.

My wife seems to have missed it too, and she’s usually pretty quick at picking these things up. If I can’t figure it out after the second viewing, I may have to throw myself at the mercy of your court and beg for enlightenment. ;-)

nukemhill on June 2, 2013 at 10:21 AM

By the way–we thoroughly enjoyed it when we saw it last weekend. Great fun.

nukemhill on June 2, 2013 at 10:22 AM

It’s been a long time sense I’ve seen Fern Gully, but I don’t really remember much in the way of cloying cuteness. I do remember dripping enviro-sanctimony, though.

Count to 10 on June 2, 2013 at 10:18 AM

Ferngully is a cute movie, though! Still, as a small child, I could smell the painfully obvious message they were selling me. I might have been more in tune with it because my parents got me subscriptions to National Geographic’s World magazine for children, which, in the early 90s, made sure to hammer home in each and every issue how destructive and devastating acid rain was. That was the environmentalists’ cause célèbre of the day, where cause célèbre is French for “hoax.”

mintycrys on June 2, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) felt like a plot device more than a character. Ironically, the Queen Tara character leads to an enormous plot hole which can’t be revealed without spoilers, but which becomes apparent at the climax of the film.

Let me guess… Queen Tara takes a Royal Trek with King Raps-a-Lot to visit her mentor in an idyllic land. The plot hole is, despite the knowing street-savvy implied by her sassy, African-Leafian dialect, the Queen is clueless to the abject poverty & hopelessness of that land. Am I right? Huh? Huh?

KS Rex on June 2, 2013 at 10:44 AM

She was on vacation this week. She’s back tomorrow.

Ed Morrissey on June 2, 2013 at 10:13 AM

Maybe she was busy living her other life in this movie. /

22044 on June 2, 2013 at 10:44 AM

Agree 100%. I go to these movies with my six year old, waiting for the left-wing sucker punch, and it never came in Epic.

motionview on June 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM

I get the Queen Tara hole.
I was prepared to hate this movie and I really liked it. I took my 9yo on opening weekend.
The previews made it look all kinds of drug induced weird and it wasn’t. In fact, only one of the kids wanted to see it.
Since seeing it, I’ve recommended it.
It is just a story. That is refreshing.

ORconservative on June 2, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Maybe I’ll go see it. A good story that isn’t preachy is rare these days.

22044 on June 2, 2013 at 11:18 AM

I thought Croods was a bizarre movie, I expected this one to be equally as strange and it isn’t. I don’t know anyone else who thought Croods was bizarre so I may suck at being a movie critic.
Think like a kid and it is an enjoyable movie.

ORconservative on June 2, 2013 at 11:24 AM

OK – any movie that has a pug in it I have to see….

LL

Lady Logician on June 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM

I took my 3 grandchildren ages 8,7,and 6 years old(2 girls, one boy) to the 3d version. All 3 loved it. And, as an adult, wasn’t bad. My grandson really liked the action and the fight scenes.

conservativegrandma on June 2, 2013 at 12:12 PM

My wife loves a lite toon flic so I’ll take her to see it. Thanks Ed.

Limerick on June 2, 2013 at 12:18 PM

That is the best ratings scale ever!

xdwall on June 2, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Glad you liked it, Ed, and thanks for reviewing it.

My son works at Blue Sky, and has been laboring over this for about a year (which is typical of their films, including Rio and the Ice Age series).

For the geeks: with all of the POV ray-tracing, the computing hardware necessary is awesome, probably only a little behind what’s used by military and oil-exploration modeling. But it was a little disappointing to not find anyone painting cels. (remember when Unca’ Walt would come on TV and show you how the artists laboriously painted those iconic images?)

bofh on June 2, 2013 at 2:57 PM

Thank you for reviewing a clean film, Ed!

We don’t have small kids to take, but this is one of the rare non-profane & non-sexed-up flicks out today, so we’ll see it.

itsnotaboutme on June 2, 2013 at 4:45 PM

Glad you reviewed this movie, Ed. I wasn’t going to see it, and I’m still not going to see it, but in the commercials for it, there was absolutely no clue what the movie was about. All the ad showed was a mishmash of little people, snails, and some bug larva that was, without the tiniest sense of irony, supposed to be high-ranking and wise…no reference at all to the plot. Terrible advertising that did the apparently good movie a severe disservice.

James on June 2, 2013 at 6:16 PM

Well thanks Ed for the review.
I was wondering about this film. The fruit fly preview was hilarious, but I really wondered if that was the only funny/good part.
I’ll take my 3 yo granddaughter.
This is the kid who sat through Oblivion with me & we talked about bad guys vs good guys.
She loves the Avengers & Iron Man. So I bet this’ll be interesting to her.

Badger40 on June 3, 2013 at 10:07 AM

I enjoyed it. I took my 13-year-old grandson with me, and he enjoyed it too. The 9-year-old granddaughter was occupied elsewhere, so I can’t tell you what she thought about it.

William Joyce, the author of the books Epic is based on, is having a couple of good years. He also wrote the books

The Rise of the Guardians

was based on.

catsandbooks on June 3, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Oops. The Rise of the Guardians was supposed to have been italicized, not put in a quotation block. Heavy sigh. I usually preview my posts, but this one was short so I figured I couldn’t have made too many mistakes. Heavy sigh again.

catsandbooks on June 3, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Good to know I’m not the only one who misread it as “Mary Katherine Ham comes back to live with her father.”

The_Livewire on June 3, 2013 at 12:51 PM

and thankfully Epic is one kid’s film that doesn’t try to beat you to death with an ideological stick

Sorry, I don’t buy it.
For these three reasons.
1. Hollywood movie
2. Aimed at kids
3. Saving the trees

How can a movie which has people(creatures, fairies, etc) whose reason for living is to “save” the forest from some “evil bad guys”(corporations, businessmen, city leaders, etc. – We’ve seen all this crap before) not have an agenda. So what if they don’t beat you over the head with it… this time?! It is still the plot point and the reason this movie was made.

Pass.

Sterling Holobyte on June 3, 2013 at 2:24 PM

I just watched this. Fun movie!

22044 on February 2, 2014 at 1:34 PM