What It Is
Mary Katherine, or M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), is miserable at the start of Epic. Following the offscreen loss of her mother, the teenager is headed to a ramshackle house in the woods, where her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), has lived alone for years, pursuing a fantastic-seeming notion only he believes, that a population of tiny beings dwell in the forest. As he tries every day to see these people, with a collection of cameras and monitors, as well as a contraptionish helmet with thick-lensed goggles, he barely sees what’s in front of him at home, which now includes his daughter.
And so the film sets up a standard tension between distracted parent and resentful child, with M.K. so immediately impatient with her dad’s fussing that she leaves the house almost as soon as she arrives, leaving behind a note on his computer screen. An accident of the sort that tends to happen in such movies — and this one does recall several well-known versions — leaves M.K. shrunk to tiny size and introduced to the Leaf Men and Good Bugs (who ride hummingbirds), led by Ronin (Colin Farrell) and at that very moment fighting for their lives against a group of gnarly bugs, also known as Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). The fight takes a particularly dire form when the Leaf Men’s good Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) is killed. Just before she dies, she gasps to M.K. that she, now tiny, must look after the forest’s spirit in a bud form, until it blooms in moonlight and infuses another queen.
The action that follows is familiar enough: the Boggans do their best to get the bud, the Leaf Men and good bugs, including a pair of comic-reliefy sidekicks, the slug Mub (Aziz Ansari) and the snail Grub (Chris O’Dowd), as well as an up-and-coming Leaf Man, Nod (Josh Hutcherson), travel with M.K. and Ronin to ensure the bud blooms safely. The group braves assaults by the Boggans, who gather and glower, then head out into the forest to shoot dark arrows at the Leaf Men and all things green, spreading what they call “rot” over the ground and throughout every plant it touches.
Lucky that our heroes are so full of gumption, so determined to save the forest from this malaise. Also lucky, for the father-daughter plot that is lost for a good portion of the film, that the professor has precisely the equipment (and size) needed to save the forest, and so, his family.
Why It’s Fun
The film makes decent use of its 3D technology to create depth, rather than only pushing objects out at you: the flights on hummingbirds are energetic and also overused as a means to create “action.”
M.K. is an appealing protagonist, though she’s called on to do a few too many formulaic plot tasks, such that her emotional journey ends up looking more reductive than expansive. She has to fall off the bird she’s supposed to ride, she flirts with Nod, she disobeys the father-like Ronin, she very suddenly takes charge of a mission at the end.
So, while we’re glad to see her appreciate her father’s passion and commitment, the truth is he has abandoned his child when she was young. Though he suggests this is because her mother insisted on his distance — thinking he was “crazy” or an otherwise bad influence — the result is the same as if he left on his own: M.K. missed him and didn’t know why.
Queen Tara isn’t on screen long enough: she’s the one woman among the Leaf Men who speaks. The Leaf Men are noble, but boring. The comic relief characters aren’t very funny.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the films this one borrows from — and these films are numerous — will either be happy enough to see plot points rehashed, or they’ll be bored by the repetition. These films include, but certainly aren’t limited to, the following: The Borrowers, The Wizard of Oz, Avatar, FernGully, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
What To Be Aware Of
M.K. is sad at the beginning over the death of her mother, and then witnesses this same feeling as it is displayed by the Leaf Men when Queen Tara dies.
Mandrake suffers a personal loss, and is visibly upset for a moment, but he quickly turns this upset into a drive for vengeance. I suppose this is what makes him the villain.
M.K. is angry at her father, and their early interactions are tense, mostly registered for young viewers as her righteous upset at his lack of attention to her.
M.K. observes her new friends, Ronin and Nod, making fun of the bumbling human they’ve eluded for years. When she reveals he is her father, the Leaf Men back off, but the movie makes fun of her dad again.
The violence is cartoonish and not especially graphic, though the several images of rot spreading blackness slowly and insidiously over trees, leaves, and other foliage are just a tad disturbing.
Queen Tara, standing (or falling) in here for M.K.’s mother, dying as the girl holds her, is at once admirable and frustrating. First, she’s the only visibly black character in the film and forest: no explanation is offered for this. Other actors of color do voices for non-human-like characters here: Pitbull plays a toad for a minute or two, Aziz Ansari plays a slug, but neither is raced in human form. So, kudos to the animators for racing Beyoncé’s human-like character, but what are the community dynamics left out here, in the other human-like characters?
5 out of 10
Director: Chris Wedge
Cast: Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, Beyoncé Knowles, Steven Tyler, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US General Release: May 24, 2013
UK General Release: May 22, 2013