– Summary –
Director : Chris Wedge
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Beyonce Knowles, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler, Blake Anderson.
Approx Running Time : 102 Minutes
Synopsis: When a young girl
What we think : Flat-out gorgeous animated film strives hard to deliver excitement and interest, but thanks to the thinly written characters and the very mild eco-friendly themes (*coughFernGullycough*) there’s not a great deal of lasting success to be found here. The story suffers from being too old for young kids, while the older kids will feel it’s all a little cheesy and generic, meaning Epic comes in somewhere in that horrible grey area of being not quite suitable for either. Adults will find it fairly predictable, eliminating a lot of the enjoyment for them, too. Bland character and story undo the terrific animation – the detail is simply breathtaking – so it’s unfortunately not really all that stimulating.
Epic by name…. not quite so epic by nature.
Animated film have taken enormous strides in the years since Toy Story revolutionized what could be accomplished with a computer. The level of detail, realism and the ability to transport us into worlds nigh impossible to film in live-action have paved the way for films about talking cars, toys, fish, ogres, and hell, even planes. There’s no escaping the amazing technical accomplishments of modern film-makers in crafting worlds that look and sound simply jaw-dropping to watch. What has been less fruitful, however, is the quality of the stories the studios and film-makers try to tell, with audience expectations rising to nearly unachievable levels thanks to the work of Pixar in giving us a run of instant classics that have set the benchmark so high as to be impossible to clamber up to. For every Toy Story 2 there’s a Shark Tale, for every Cars there’s a Cars 2 (yeah, you read that right!) and for every Shrek 2 there’s a Shrek 3. Not every CG has reached the lofty levels set by Pixar during their unbroken run in the early years, which, although not unexpected, does seem strange, when you consider the time and effort in crafting one of these films. It’s not like people are trying to make a bad film; rather, a confluence of contributing factors is largely to blame when it comes to dissecting the failure of any computer animated film. Often, it’s characters. More often, it’s weird concepts (Pixar’s Cars franchise launched Disney’s flat-footed Planes spin-off) and occasionally, it’s a film which never really taps into the cultural zeitgeist of the time. Epic, a film out of the studio which gave us the Ice Age franchise, and directed by Blue Sky founder Chris Wedge, certainly looks amazing, as you’d expect, but how does it stack up story-and-character wise? Is Epic another Toy Story 3, or will it be summarily placed alongside such genre stalwarts as Ice Age: The Meltdown or Astro Boy?
Synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Seventeen-year-old Mary Katherine, or M.K., (Amanda Seyfried) moves in with her eccentric scientist father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), who has been searching for tiny human soldiers called Leafmen. They protect the forest Bomba lives near from evil creatures called Boggans and their malevolent leader Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). An independent young soldier, Nod (Josh Hutcherson) decides to quit, much to the ire of the no-nonsense Leafmen leader Ronin (Colin Farrell). The queen of the forest, Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), must choose an heir to her throne and goes out to a field of leaf pods, guarded by a laid-back slug named Mub (Aziz Ansari) and a wannabe Leafman snail named Grub (Chris O’Dowd). Tara chooses the smallest pod as the heir. Immediately after she does so, the Boggans attack. Meanwhile, M.K., annoyed at her father, decides to leave and leaves a note on one of his computer monitors. Before she can leave, the family’s one-eyed, three-legged dog, Ozzy, runs into the woods. While looking for Ozzy, M.K. sees Tara falling. A dying Tara gives her the pod and uses her magic to shrink her. She tells M.K. to take the pod to a Glowworm named Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler) before she dies. After meeting Ronin and the Leafmen, along with Mub and Grub, a confused and scared M.K. joins them. Ronin discovers that Nod has entered a race against other creatures and bugs on birds. He goes back on a deal with a tough bullfrog named Bufo (Pitbull) to lose the race. As the time to reveal the fate of the pod (and the forest) draws nearer, the plans of Mandrake begin to unfold as he attempts to see the pod hatch in darkness, which will bring about an eternal death to the glorious, green woodland landscape, forever setting himself up as absolute ruler.
Epic has a lot going for it. I mean, a lot. For a start, the story isn’t entirely terrible, even if it is somewhat predictable and childish. Narrative elements never really challenge the viewer into expecting the unexpected, with plot twists and “oh yeah, I can see where this is going” nods to potential plot devices thrown at the screen without restraint. Generally, though the simplistic basic plot will appeal to most because it doesn’t require a lot of thinking about. Whether this is a flaw or not is up to you, I guess. The majority of the characters in the film, with the exception of two snail/slug combo of Mub and Grub, are generally fairly generic, including the Wise But Slightly Broken Teenager, the Daffy Scientist Father, the Misunderstood Warrior and the Grumpy Yet Caring Soldier all making appearances. As a story, Epic doesn’t ever really feel terribly… well, epic, frankly. The scope of the story seems large, but when you boil it all down, the events take place over the course of a single day, and cover a small segment of a large forest area – the characters aren’t epic either, although Christoph Waltz’ Mandrake is as close as you’ll get to a convincing villain in any animated film, and even he struggles. Shoulda made better use of his German accent, perhaps?
The voice cast are all excellent, yet unremarkable (save for two). Amanda Seyfried leads the way as MK, and although sounding like any Generic Female Voice, does a solid job in the more emotional beats of the film – her interplay with Bomba is excellent, almost too realistic for a kid’s flick like this! – while Josh Hucherson’s Nod seems almost too generic for his own good. Nod’s a character you’d never pick out of a lineup. There’s nothing even vaguely interesting about him, other than some half-hearted idea that his father was killed by the Boggans and he’s been raised by Ronin. It’s never fully developed, even if the crux of Nod’s angst stems from this plot device. Hutcherson is solid, yet uninteresting vocally. Colin Farrell is terrific as Ronin, although he lacks the killer punch to deliver the coolest lines of the film; as a character, Ronin is awesome, but the voice and character don’t gel quite so well. Beyonce does a really nice job as Queen Tara (wonder why she has a normal name, when everyone else sounds like either a fungus or a Japanese solder) and Steven Tyler is something of a surprise as Nim Galuu, although the real highlight for me is Mub and Grub, who almost steal the entire film away from everyone. Aziz Ansari is terrific as Mub, bouncing off both Chris O’Dowd and the rest of the cast with his infatuation with MK, and the pair of gastropods generate the most laughs throughout the film. Jason Sudeikis sounds more like John Cusack than I was expecting, and I was scratching my head trying to figure out if it was Cusack, before I saw the credits. Sudeikis is good, even if his character feels like a mix of Back To The Future’s Doc Brown and Rick Moranis’ crazy science guy from Honey I Shrunk The Kids.
The animation, as mentioned earlier, is astonishing. Let me make it clear – this film looks amazing. The depth and reality of the world of Epic is so spectacular that at times you have to catch yourself and remember you’re watching a film made on a computer. Colors are rich and vibrant, the use of framing and editing is sublime (kudos to choppers Andy Keir and Tim Nordquist) and the sound design is something to really enjoy. The film’s 3D DNA (I watched the 2D version) is obvious, with plenty of deep focus sequences that will make the most of the extra dimension, as well as a slew of coming-at-ya visuals, flying arrows and Pod-Race-style dogfights with flying birds. Every moment of this film’s visual and aural playback is spec-tac-u-lar. It’s just such a shame that the story doesn’t linger in the mind as long as the rest of the production. A mild surprise to me was the rather straightforward orchestral score from Danny Elfman, a composer whom I feel has limited range outside of the comedy-horror genre he practically created with Tim Burton; Elfman’s score is grand, intimate and powerful when required, and I have to admit to being thoroughly impressed. It’s been a while since I was that impressed by an Elfman score, I can tell you.
Epic isn’t the greatest animated feature ever made – even if its title might indicate as much. It’s nowhere near being a bad film, either; rather, Epic’s lack of fresh characters or definitively edgy story shuffle this film into the pack of mild, rainy-day features that, when scanned quickly, don’t really bring much to the table other than fast-food cinematic gorging. While beautiful visuals might impress, and a voice cast doing some admirable work on the thinly developed characters brings it up a notch, the fact that it felt a little hokey and cobbled from other stories, as well as a tepid sense of characterization, struck me as somewhat disappointing. I liked Epic, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t inspire me to go out and rescue a half-squashed bug from the back garden either. Overall, one to watch a few times, but nothing about it will stay with you long past ejecting it from the DVD player.