I ended up seeing Epic because I couldn’t abide seeing the other two movies that opened Memorial Day, Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover, Part 3. I didn’t bother with Fast & Furious 6 because I didn’t see the previous four, and I was worried that I’d be confused. I’m kidding, of course; I’m pretty sure it was going to be the same movie, except louder and flashier, and still without the much needed explicit sex scene between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. After the jaw-dropping offensiveness of The Hangover, Part 2, there was no way that I was going to see Todd Phillips insult heterosexual men, homosexual men, anyone with race consciousness, or anyone with a sense of humor again, even if my boo Zach Galifianakis was in it. So, I ended up at Hollywood’s counter-programming for the weekend, the animated children’s adventure Epic, which is a strange mash-up of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, A Bugs Life, and The Lord of the Rings, without being a tiny fraction as good as any of them. In hindsight, I wish I’d stayed home and binged on Netflix. Or just slept in.
Epic has a good enough concept. Humans are unable to see it, but in the forest the tiny, magical and militaristic forces of life and growth are in constant combat with those of death aand decay. The good guys, two-inch tall humanoids who ride hummingbirds and sparrows and are led by stand in for Mother Nature voiced by a sedated Beyoncé and protected by the head Leafman played by Colin Farrell, are at war with bad guys called Boggles, pale gremlins who wear rodents skulls and fur as armor, ride bats and crows, and are commanded by the dastardly Mandrake, voiced by Christoph Waltz and his evil accent. Near all of this drama lives a wacky man-sized scientist (Jason Sudeikis) who is convinced this other world exists but who everyone else thinks is a crackpot, including his mopey daughter Mark Katherine, or MK (Amanda Seyfried), who has moved back in with him after her mother’s death.
In a bizarre cosmic accident, when Mandrake succeeds in assassinating Beyoncé, MK gets smallified and made somehow the protector of a flower pod that will somehow save the world. For this to all work out, Rowan, MK, a rebellious junior Leafman named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), and the snail-slug combo that raised the pod (Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari, who provide the only life in the film), must go on a wacky adventure, fight bad guys, do heroic things, and repair various strained relationships. It is, after all, a children’s movie.
Children’s movies, while they don’t tend to be daring, don’t have to be stupid. The ideas in Epic are interesting, if derivative of a bunch of other films and books, are not particularly bad. But as executed in a screenplay written by five people – clearly, a committee was formed, and a terrible groupthink emerged – the characters became more wooden that the living stick people MK meets on the forest floor. Clichéd line after clichéd line are attached to subplots and character conflicts about as original as those in the fifth sequel to a car chase movie, and I found my eyes rolling back into my head more than widening at what should have been beautiful animation. The bar in animated movies is now too high to half-ass the forest scenes, the characters’ expressions, or the lipsync, but in Epic, the director and the animators didn’t seem to notice the bar at all; it was too high in the trees.
Directed by Chris Wedge
Written by James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle, and Matt Ember
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, and Josh Hutcherson
At your local multiplex