It’s really hard to hate animated movies, even bad ones. If nothing else, animated movies are typically filled with lush visuals and virtuous messages that children need to hear, even if they are a little too simple for adults. Such is the case with the inappropriately titled "Epic." It’s certainly not an example of a good animated film, and considering that it’s coming from Blue Sky Studios whose best film is the mostly bland "Ice Age," that’s no surprise, but it’s hardly a disaster and it sports some imaginative visuals, despite a story you can’t say the same for.
The film starts with Mary Katherine, who prefers to go by M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), a teenage girl whose father (Jason Sudeikis) hasn’t always been around for her. Despite this, she is making an attempt to connect with him and goes to visit him in his cabin in the woods. For years, he has been obsessed with a population of tiny creatures he believes to be living in the forest. Most people, including M.K., think he’s crazy, but little do they know he’s actually right. He just hasn’t found the proof yet.
M.K. is about to realize this firsthand when she finds herself shrunk down to their size right after the queen of the forest, Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), gives her the chosen forest pod, which will save the forest from Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and the Boggans, the evil little creatures who want the forest to decay. That little pod is going to sprout that night and along with the Leafmen, the guardians of the forest led by rookie Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and Ronin (Colin Farrell), it’s up to her to ensure it sprouts in light and keeps the life of the forest intact.
As one might expect, the story is inconsequential and filled with messages about saving our forests and preserving the delicate ecosystem of life on our planet. It’s certainly a good message and it doesn’t beat you over the head with it like last year’s "Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax," but the problem comes when the question is inevitably asked: why save the forest?
The answer boils down to an unconvincing "because it’s pretty." The Boggans, as far as the movie explains, don’t want to destroy the forest because they hate the forest’s inhabitants, but rather because they enjoy living in rot. To them, it’s simply a matter of beauty vs. decay and they prefer decay.
The battle to save the forest becomes one of aesthetic purposes rather than one of nobility. Although the decay of the forest would obviously lead to the destruction of its ecosystem, such a point is never made. There are plenty of reasons to save our forests and respect the life in it, but kids watching won’t walk away with that understanding due to a narrow thematic focus.
One must admit, however, that the visuals do indeed paint a forest that looks exquisite and feels alive, so perhaps the narrow focus will benefit those watching. Due to our advanced technology, it’s difficult to make a movie with a presumably large budget like this look bad, but that no less diminishes its beauty. The characters are also animated well and move gracefully through the forest, even during the surprisingly taut action scenes. Watching the film move is a real joy, even if where it’s moving to isn’t particularly interesting.
The story itself is emotionally distant and the characters are flatly written, usually succumbing to the archetypes modern moviegoers expect. Nod is the reckless free spirit with untapped potential while Ronin is the hardened general whose duties to the Queen and the forest are his only priorities.
Naturally, Ronin cares for Nod and believes in him, despite his recklessness, and it’s a safe bet to assume that Nod will make him proud by the end of the movie. And you can’t have a movie with characters of the opposite sex without sparking a romance, this time between Nod and M.K., a romance that is never truly built or felt and is largely forgotten by the end, given that M.K. has to return to normal size while Nod must remain in his diminutive state.
"Epic" is nothing but underdeveloped stories that are masked by high flying action and solid voice performances from a talented cast (aside from Aziz Ansari as Mub the slug, who proves he can be just as annoying without having to look at him). It’s sure to delight children, though it won’t leave a lasting impression and the chance to provide them with some meaning is unfortunately passed by for simplicity’s sake. For similar concepts told in vastly different ways, you’re better off checking out Studio Ghibli’s wonderful "The Secret World of Arrietty," which is far more interesting, beautiful and profound than anything shown here. "Epic" is anything but.