‘Epic,’ the latest computer-animated offering from Blue Sky Studios (best known for ‘Ice Age’ and its sequels) is an agreeable, family-friendly entertainment option. While far from truly epic, this visually enchanting film is a pleasant respite from other more intense PG-13 summer options for families.
‘Epic’ presents the story of teenage Mary Katherine, known as ‘M.K.’ (and voiced by Amanda Seyfried) who has come back to live in her childhood home, after the death of her mother, with her absent-minded scientist father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudekis). Bomba, with overgrown hair and an unattended, messy house, has become myopic in finding a secret civilization of small leaf people. Her father’s seemingly crazy obsession further emotionally distances M.K. from him, the man she had left behind after her parents’ divorce. Thinking her father has lost touch with both her and reality, M.K. attempts to leave the house while her father is away, but instead, finds herself magically shrunk down in the forest. Suddenly small, M.K. must let go of her big family issues and, instead, take on the role of protector, as she is abruptly given a pod that holds the forest’s future by the Leaf Men’s Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles). After her initial confusion and disorientation to her new size and lofty duty, M.K. realizes that her father’s pursuit of the little civilization was real, and that she is now embroiled in a battle to save both them and the ecosystem from the decay-spreading Boggans, who wish to destroy all of nature.
‘Epic’ is, at its heart, a story of loss, and recovery, and forgiveness. M.K. must try to find it within herself to cope with her new, and not fully understood, forest duties as well as to deal with her regenerated relationship with her father. Both duties hold her to an intense commitment she has never dealt with before, and both attempt to have her metamorphosize in subtler ways than just becoming superficially small. Even though we have seen these types of ‘I-don’t-know-what-I’ve-gotten-into’ battles numerous times before (and even the eco-wars are not thematically new for kid-cartoon watchers from the 1990’s — ‘Captain Planet’ or ‘Ferngully,’ anyone?), ‘Epic’ is somewhat unique in the detail of both its storytelling for children and the imbuement of morality, empathy, and steadfastness in many of its characters.
Watching the movie, it is obvious its elaboration came from another source, and, indeed, it did. Famed children’s author William Joyce wrote the source material in his book ‘The Leaf Men,’ and also served as the film’s screenplay writer. Known for his emotional battles between good and evil (as author of the ‘Guardians of Childhood’ book series that became the movie ‘Rise of the Guardians’), Joyce has crafted a intriguing, alternate world that can envelope the eager young viewer on a hot summer day. Further evidencing Joyce’s emotional involvement in the film, it does not seem a coincidence that the film’s heroine, Mary Katherine, is named after his 18-year-old daughter, who died after a brain tumor in 2010.
Blue Sky Studios has finally created a visually gorgeous film on par with the best of the flying scenes in ‘Rio’ with an inviting, likable story that far exceeds any of the standard fare in their ‘Ice Age’ films. While it is true that the movie does have its limits (it drags at times during its 102-minute runtime, its snail-slug comedy duo serve only to provide obvious slapstick laughs, and the story may be best understood by children 7 and up), it is the best that Blue Sky has yet offered. While not a full game changer, ‘Epic’ still does show that Blue Sky Studios is almost ready to be counted among the animation studio big boys (Pixar and Dreamworks). Epic is rated 4 out of 5 stars (‘recommended’) for its emotional components, visual beauty, and family friendliness.
And, ‘Epic’ is rated ‘PG’ for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language.
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