Starring the Voices of: Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Beyonce Knowles, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Steven Tyler, Blake Anderson, Judah Friedlander.
Director: Chris Wedge
Rating: PG (for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language.)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2013
Twentieth Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Written by: Screenplay by James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle, and Matt Ember; Story.by William Joyce, James V. Hart and Chris Wedge; inspired and based on the children’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs” by William Joyce.
For budding filmmakers, a word of caution: If you choose to name your film Epic, you may be raising the expectation bar somewhat high. Also, if you achieve a level of success in your life that affords you the privilege to write, direct, and/or animate for one of the three highest profile animation production companies in the world, and you have created a project entitled Epic, it would be a good idea to make the film retain some level of originality and distinction from its peers.
I have no idea where Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios went wrong with their latest film, but Epic is anything but emblematic of its name. Meek, Timid, Sleepy, Does Nothing…all would perhaps serve as better descriptors of this big budget letdown, set to be foisted on unsuspecting families and younger viewers in a gloriously unnecessary 3D presentation.
Let me back up a little bit. I will concede that Epic is well animated and well intentioned. Embellished from an impressive and beautifully drawn children’s book by William Joyce, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, Chris Wedge’s film is based on well, lots of things not really present in the book and ideas which have appeared in countless animated films before this one.
“Epic” (20th Century Fox)
In short: A dastardly villain (Christoph Waltz), appears, threatens, and disappears for much of the film, despite his race of menacing Boggans threatening to eradicate a tiny kingdom below the leaves. This tiny kingdom has been doggedly pursued by Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), whose tunnelvision focus on proving his discoveries for several years has led to his wife leaving him and snuffing out any connection with his 17-year old daughter, Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried). We get a slug and a snail cracking wise (Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd) and even a queen (Beyonce Knowles) tasked with trying to hold off the looming war between her Leaf Men and the advancing Boggans.
Nothing is unique and therein lies Epic‘s biggest problem. Without there being anything new or tangible to point to as interesting, novel or organically inspired, we sit unimpressed, thinking of films like The Lion King, Ferngully, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Borrowers and The Spiderwick Chronicles, which all work far better than any of this.
William Joyce served as one of five screenwriters on this project and I would love to know how all of these individuals came to the project. In constant tonal agitation, Epic feels like a film that was rewritten so many times that whatever voice it may have had is lost far too early on in the story. It comes as no spoiler to reveal that Mary Katherine finds a glowing leaf and becomes a member of the Leaf Men community and kingdom, but I cannot think of a more lackluster delivery of a potentially compelling plot point in a children’s movie in recent memory.
One of the things I hear often from people who routinely attend children’s movies at the theater is that it does not really matter if the adults in attendance liked the movie, because, you know, it’s for the children after all. Fair enough. Except we have seen far too many films figure out how to entertain across all demographics. Epic wants to be that film that makes young and old smile but has no idea how to get there. Something always gets in the way of making this enjoyable.
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Beautifully drawn scenes, with rich forest-laden color and design, become darkened into ambiguity in 3D. Inexplicably and inordinately frustrating is Wedge’s decision to bathe many of his scenes is a faux-natural sunlight, which actually washes out much of the beauty he has been given to work with. In terms of its story, Epic is even more of a mess. This gaggle of writers have engineered their story around Mary Katherine as a big person shrinking down to help the little people, but then shifts the focus on Ronin (Colin Farrell), the Leader of the Leaf Men who has his own parent/son conflict with his son Nod (Josh Hutcherson). The efforts to synchronize the parent/child relationship conflicts between Mary Katherine and her father and Nod and his dad are never really explored, and thus, the action sequences begin to feel like nothing more than filler.
Beyonce’s voice is simply too deep and husky to fit the softly drawn Disney-styled queen whose storyline is designed to kick the film into high gear. Christoph Waltz sounds like he is having fun playing the bad guy, but he is in the film so little his performance just feels wasted. Jason Sudeikis does infuse the film with a madcap energy as the zany father, but his obsessions with proving his theories and remaining ignorant of what that has cost him, make him actually quite unlikable more than goofy or endearing.
So what exactly is Epic about then? A fantastical adventure about saving a kingdom from vicious villains? A father’s reconnecting with his estranged daughter? The giving up of one’s own interests for the greater good of those in need? The sense of self in the grander scheme of things? The joy found in casting Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler as a caterpillar and electro-pop rap star Pitbull as a toad?
Yeah, you know what…not even gonna try and figure out those casting choices.
I understand that 2013 has been a desolate wasteland for animated family films which typically arrive in a much more plentiful bounty than we have found this year. And as the landscape lies ahead of us, Epic has a virtual month in the multiplex all to itself. Try and hold the kids back. Wait a bit longer. The choices should get better, as opposed to this mesmerizingly boring and lackluster Epic failure of a film.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Chances are your children, nieces, nephews, etc. have been clamoring to go see a movie and this is our next contestant.
- The film looks beautiful and richly detailed (save a few sunlight-drowning shots) and is visually speaking, a wonderful film to look at and watch.
- Prepare to fall in love with Ozzie, a dog custom-made to win the hearts and minds.
- You so deserve better. We all do. Epic is a retread of countless other films, some of which the younger viewers may have already seen, and feels ponderous and overly long and a slog to get through because of it.
- The story is a mess and fitfully frustrating in how it cannot commit to one theme or any message whatsoever. Too many chefs in the kitchen, perhaps?
- Read or experience the wonderful, 40 page picture book which upon one read and then one viewing of this film, makes youl wonder how William Joyce let his story get torn apart and why he had a hand in destroying his own source material. How did this happen?