The 17-year periodical cicadas are supposed to be bad this year, leaving their shells on trees and keeping people awake at night with their singing. So it’s fitting that Epic too arrives in 2013. Epic, a wheeling, action-filled tale based on ecosystem life cycles, takes the forest’s daily struggle between organic life and death to a whole new level – and does so without so much as a nod to big environmentalism.
In Epic, only a solitary seemingly mad scientist, Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), has any idea that on a grasshopper-sized level, two kingdoms – the leafmen and the boggins – are warring for control of the natural world.
When Bomba’s daughter M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) comes to visit after the death of her mother, she inadvertently finds herself shrunken and dubbed guardian of the forest’s only hope for survival. At her side are the rebellious Nod (Josh Hutcherson), his guardian Ronin (Colin Farrell), and a dopey slug-snail duo, Mub and Grub (Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd), to help her succeed.
Based on a book, the epic tale is big and strange enough that it takes a good portion of the movie to simply lay out the magical rules of the miniature world, sacrificing character and story arcs because of it. The love story between M.K. and Nod develops too quickly, and a few poor vocal choices – namely Steven Tyler as the Rastafarian caterpillar Nim Galuu – hurt the film.
But Blue Sky Studios is known for Ice Age and that determined saber-toothed squirrel Skrat. Like in Ice Age, the best characters here are sideshows. Bomba’s three-legged pug-nose pup is a key source of comic relief, as are certain bug stereotypes like the short-lived fruit fly who makes a brief darkly humorous cameo.
The film is less about its story though than about visual stimulation, and the millions of merchandising opportunities that Blue Sky will no doubt exploit. Epic shares Avatar‘s beauty, with lush greenery and exquisite lighting. The leaf men heroes are armored like green Samurai, ready to battle their mongol-esque bog-residing foes who issue from a decayed tree stump. The visual juxtapositions between the living and dead parts of the forest kingdom are fantastic and fun. So too is the war between the two sides, though Blue Sky doesn’t mind actually killing characters, which could easily scare young children.
Ultimately, kids of the right age will love the wheeling, action-filled story, from its beginning to its epic conclusion. Animated classic it is not – Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks have raised the bar too high for a home run every time. But when the film pauses to catch its breath and to stop and smell the flowers it portrays so beautifully, it’s among the greats of its genre; if it gets a few children to do the same, then it’s a success.
Image credit: 20th Century Fox