Film review: Epic

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.