“Epic” doesn’t quite live up to its title, but it’s nevertheless a fun-filled animated fantasy adventure, one that’s enlivened by an engaging cast of characters, a talented voice ensemble, highly imaginative visuals, and a reliable plot founded on the battle between good and evil. Although its vivid color scheme is dimmed by the 3D process – a side effect I wasn’t at all surprised by, and you shouldn’t be either at this point – it still proves that animation is generally a better medium for 3D than live action. There are moments, fleeting though they were, when I actually did feel immersed in this rendered world, and at times, it did seem as if objects really were coming out of the screen and coming right for me. Regardless, my usual advice is for audiences to opt for a brighter 2D presentation, and that’s what I’m sticking with for this particular film.
One of the five credited screenwriters is William Joyce, and the film is based on his children’s novel “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.” In the same vein as films like “The Ant Bully” and “Arthur and the Invisibles,” both of which are also based on children’s books, “Epic” tells the story of a human magically getting shrunken in size and discovering an entire world hiding in plain sight in the forest. This would be seventeen-year-old Mary Katherine, who prefers to be called M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried). Her mother has recently died, forcing her to move away from the city and back into her countryside childhood home with her father. His name is Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), a pleasant but absent-minded and annoyingly one-tracked scientist who lost his marriage and career over his obsessive quest to prove that a tiny race of people live in the forest land surrounding his home.
Although he has yet to fulfill his quest, the audience already knows that he was right to believe all along. Hidden amongst the flowers and trees in his backyard are miniature warriors called Leafmen; they’re sworn to protect their queen, Tara (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles), an ethereal woman whose sole purpose is to preserve the balance of nature. Her very presence can make plants spontaneously grow and bow to her whim. The balance she maintains is threatened by another tiny race of beings, the Boggans, who, with their gray skins and pointed teeth, look more demonic than the Leafmen. Their evil leader, Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz), can, with just the touch of his staff or the shooting of a poisoned arrow, cause a plant or any living being to instantaneously decay. Unlike the Leafmen, who are surrounded by living greenery, the Boggans live in a world of rot, shadow, and dirt.
Through a magical turn of events I won’t reveal, M.K., who up until now never believed in what her father was doing, is shrunken to the size of a Leafman and becomes caught in the middle of their war with the Boggans. She’s now in the possession of a flowerbud handpicked by Queen Tara from a wide selection of buds. It’s part of a tradition that occurs every 100 years on the summer solstice, specifically when the moon is full and at its highest peak; only when the bud blooms in a moonbeam can its powers be released and allow for a new queen to be crowned. On her journey, M.K. will meet and inevitably fall in love with a young, reckless rookie Leafman named Nod (voiced by Josh Hutcherson), who clearly has a problem with authority. She will also meet Nod’s surrogate father, Ronin (voiced by Colin Farrell), the stern but loyal leader of the Leafmen.
As with any good fantasy, “Epic” has its fair share of comedy relief. There’s a snail named Grub (voiced by Chris O’Dowd) and a slug named Mub (voiced by Aziz Ansari), the latter believing that he’s the love of M.K.’s life. And then there’s a six-handed caterpillar named Nim Galuu (voiced by Steven Tyler), a cross between a loudmouth showman, a wise elder, and a librarian. Indeed, the entire history of the Leafmen and their world is documented within an enormous collection of scrolls stored in the trunk of a tree. In fact, the scrolls themselves are the tree’s rings; the deeper into the trunk you go, the farther back in time you’re delving into. In the human world, there’s M.K.’s elderly pug, Ozzie, who has only three legs and is essentially deaf. From the perspective of a Leafman, a full-sized human being moves and talks in slow motion. Strange, how something so logical can come off so funny.
There are visual details that, while small, show just how significant that extra spark of imagination can take a film. Consider the fact that the Leafmen put saddles and reins on birds and ride them like horses. And then there’s the fact that Leafmen, who are really just very small humans, aren’t the only living beings inhabiting their world; flowers, dandelions, and mushrooms are revealed to be anthropomorphized creatures, having faces and the ability to walk and speak. Even the Boggans can assume the appearance of tree bark. For these alone, “Epic” is worth the price of admission; simply looking at the film is an experience unto itself. It may not tell the most original story or have the most original characters, but it was obviously made with care, and it’s sure to please children and adults alike.