Summer movie season has kicked off, and amidst the blockbusters there are always a few animated ones thrown into the mix. First up is Epic from Blue Sky Studios, based on the book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce.
The story is straightforward and painfully predictable. Teenager Mary Katherine (or M.K. for short to sound cool *cringe*) goes to live with her eccentric father who is obsessed with discovering the secret world of the forest. After attempting to run away from home, M.K. is accidentally shrunk and caught up in the struggle of the miniature Leaf-Men as they fight to protect the forest from the evil Mandrake and his army of Boggins who seek to destroy it.
The whole thing feels like the sort of movie Don Bluth would have made back in the '80s and early '90s (Think The Secret of NIMH or Thumbelina). Despite the filmmaker's claims to the contrary, there are flavors of Avatar and Ferngully, although it lacks the overt humanitarian/environmental messages of either. The movie is more about the usual believing in yourself and remembering the importance of family, especially fatherhood. Everyone in this movie has some sort of father issue, even the villain. Part of Mandrake's motivation comes from the loss of his son and top general early in the movie. It doesn't exactly make him more sympathetic, but it's an interesting twist on an otherwise completely over-the-top performance by Cristoph Waltz.
The rest of the cast suffers from the all too common problem of too many celebrity voices. Ever since Robin Williams was cast in Aladdin, studios have used high-profile celebrities in their casts to hype the movies, usually to the detriment of the characters. Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, and Colin Farrell voice the main cast and all do a solid enough job. The real problem is the secondary cast which is filled with popular names, especially musicians. Beyonce, Pitbull, and Steven Tyler all lend their voices to the film, and each of their roles would have been much more satisfying had they been played by proper voice actors instead. They even gave Tyler's quasi-sage Nim Galuu a little song-and-dance introduction. No. Just no. The one exception I'll make here is Aziz Ansari's role as a slug named Mub. I went into this movie fully expecting to find every single line out of his mouth to be stupid and forced, but some of his them were actually funny, so he gets a pass.
The visuals of the movie look great from far away, but less so up-close. The forest setting looks incredibly real and fantastic to the point of making me want to take a hike afterwards. The way that the miniature world of the Leaf-Men is portrayed is both believable and captivating. Who ever would have thought that a mouse could be so dangerous? The character acting and posing is also quite good, but the characters themselves don't stand up quite as well. Beyonce's Queen Tara in particular looks like Mother Nature Barbie.
Perhaps my favorite part of the movie however is M.K.'s pet pug, Ozzy. Animal companions are usually a given in movies like this, but Ozzy is unique because he is an older dog but is not played with the usual lazy hang-dog approach. Even though he's half-blind and only has three legs, Ozzy is a little ball of love and energy, and never stops moving throughout the picture. As the owner of a 12 year-old dog who still bounces around like a puppy, I'm thrilled to see this type of pet portrayed accurately in a movie.
This may be the best animated dog since Huckleberry Hound
Overall, Epic is a good movie. It falls into some conventional traps, but there is plenty of action, humor, and feeling to make this a solid family flick. With summer just getting started, the movie is a good reminder to go outside and enjoy some of the beautiful scenery that surrounds us every day. So stop reading this and go out and play!