Thursday, January 9, 2014

Epic Movie Review

One of the better (as in just above average) offerings in this last weak year for American animated features is Epic. It’s a largely derivative eco-conscious storyline that brings to mind Avatar by way of Ferngully with a touch of Alice in Wonderland. The characters aren’t entirely memorable, but there’s enough here that’s commendable that it’s not worth dismissing. How’s that for faint praise?

The general premise is what I found most intriguing. The central conceit is that a highly evolved community of tiny men and women live in the forest. They fly around on birds, they have a queen (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles) who keeps the forest green, and they have enemies known as Boggans. These are gray-colored creatures, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), whose sole purpose appears to be to turn the forest dead and colorless. Why they do this is never really explained, nor is there much development of the subplot involving the death of Mandrake’s son which sets him on a rampage to steal the magical flower bud that gives life to the forest via some magical power bestowed upon it by the queen. Or something.

There are two human characters. Jason Sudeikis voices Dr. Bomba, a man utterly convinced he’s discovered this secret world. His daughter, M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), tumbles down the rabbit hole by getting shrunk by the dying queen. She then gets embroiled in the quest to save the forest. One of the film’s most interesting story devices is the idea that the human world and the miniature world operate on something like different frequencies, so to speak. That’s why humans can’t catch a glimpse of the lea men or hear them talk. It’s also the reason, according to Bomba, why it’s so hard to kill a fly. To them, we’re these lumbering slow-moving half-wits. I like this idea and the way screenwriters James V. Hart, William Joyce, and a cadre of others employ it to the film’s advantage.

The leader of the leaf men is Ronin (Colin Farrell) and one of his charges is Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a young man with an independent streak. Too many subplots spoil the broth and too little is done in expanding a lot of them. The voice characterizations leave a lot to be desired, especially when stacked against the enormous talent of both voice acting and writing of the Pixar films. Farrelll, Hutcherson, Sudeikis, and Seyfriend don’t have great material to start with and so their characters don’t really go anywhere in your head once the movie is finished. They could be voiced by anyone, really. Waltz is the most memorable (mainly because he’s such a great villain) along with Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd as a slug and a snail whose job is to protect the magical bud.

The movie looks great. The computer animation rendering of the forest is simply gorgeous. There’s wonderful detail in every frame and the colors pop out. It’s occasionally distracting when you catch a moment that’s obviously designed as a 3-D effect, but those are few and far between. But director Chris Wedge keeps it a generally good ride, amusing for the part, and sometimes even exciting. There’s also no denying this is truly a very good family entertainment.

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