×

Review: ‘Epic’

A reasonably entertaining, adeptly crafted kidpic that relies on overfamiliar tropes and trappings.

With:

Colin Ferrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler, Beyonce Knowles

The most questionable thing about “Epic,” Blue Sky Studios’ latest animated adventure, is its title. Not only is it generic-sounding and Google-unfriendly, it’s also one of the last words most viewers would use to describe the film. Which is not to say that director Chris Wedge’s effort is some sort of epic fail, in fact it’s nothing of the sort: “Epic” is a reasonably entertaining, adeptly crafted kidpic whose biggest crime is its near pathological reliance on overfamiliar tropes and trappings. But that shouldn’t bother family crowds, who will likely line up in large numbers and leave satisfied, if hardly awed.

That “Epic’s” title survived market testing is a bit surprising when one considers how much of the rest of the film seems to have originated there. Almost everything that conventional wisdom would suggest a successful multi-quadrant family pic ought to contain is present here in some capacity, from the overstocked celebrity voice cast to 3D bells and whistles, a gently apolitical eco-friendly message, an offscreen parent death and some Timon-and-Pumba style sidekicks. The film also hews to a premise — tiny people living a clandestine existence under the noses of full-sized humans — that has been similarly employed by “The Secret World of Arrietty,” “Arthur and the Invisibles” and “The Borrowers” over the past several years.

But if this is all familiar territory even to film-literate young children, it’s nonetheless executed with professionalism and a few dashes of panache. A prologue introduces the film’s intriguing (if underexplored) allegorical underpinnings, in which the forest’s natural vacillation between growth and decay is represented by groups of opposing woodland sprites. The Leaf Men are a brave race of tiny archers who dress like Link from “The Legend of Zelda” and fly around on saddled hummingbirds, protecting the forest from the spread of rot, embodied by gargoyles with rat-skin coats called Boggans, who maraud through the woods on bats.

After a pitched aerial battle to open the film, a vanquished Boggan plummets screaming from the sky and — in a bravura flourish — splatters harmlessly against the windshield of a taxi carrying teenage MK (Amanda Seyfried). Dealing with the recent death of her mother, MK is being shipped off to live in the woods with her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), a doddering doofus who years ago alienated his family due to his obsessive insistence on a theory that tiny creatures live in the surrounding woods.

Meanwhile, down below, the creatures themselves are planning a mythic transfer of power, with the Persephone-like forest queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) choosing a flower bulb to which she will pass on her regenerative power, accompanied by the portentously named warrior Ronin (Colin Ferrell) and his callow, rebellious surrogate son, Nod (Josh Hutcherson). Seeking to spoil the party is Boggan shogun Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), who wants the bulb for his own purposes. When MK stumbles into a fateful moment of this conflict, she is shrunk down to ladybug-size and thrust into the drama.

In the film’s best moments, “Epic” recalls Japanese animation more than it does its Western counterparts, with the delicately balanced hyper-clutter of Bomba’s lab bringing Miyazaki inescapably to mind. Yet the deluge of default Hollywood devices leaves the film a bit soggy, and such scant time is devoted to MK’s father issues and romance with Nod that attempts to wring emotional payoff out of these plotlines come up dry. (With five credited screenwriters — the film was confusingly inspired by, but not adapted from, a book by William Joyce, who is also among the scripters — perhaps these imbalances shouldn’t come as a surprise.)

Animation quality is generally quite high, with fur and water excellently rendered, though Wedge has a tendency to stage certain showpiece sequences with the camera pointed directly into a shaft of sunlight, enveloping everything in a fulgent sheen that looks particularly distracting through 3D glasses. Yet on the whole, this is a fully realized world, providing a more ecologically accurate view of the forest than one usually sees on film, full of just as many mold-spores and wriggling things as fauns and flowers.

A slug-snail alliance (Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari) entrusted with looking after the bulb attempt comic relief, with antics that range from harmlessly unfunny to actively unpleasant. (Clever animation can make rats, bugs, lizards and sea sponges huggable — but slugs might still be a bridge too far). On the opposite end, casting Cuban-American rapper Pitbull as a toad underworld kingpin is weirdly inspired, and a Steven Tyler-voiced Parrothead caterpillar should give parents a chuckle.

Danny Elfman’s score is a bit more plodding and saccharine than one might expect from him, and an end-credits song from Beyonce is a wash.

Popular on Variety

Review: 'Epic'

Reviewed at Fox Studios, Los Angeles, May 18, 2013. MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 103 MIN.

Production:

(Animated) A 20th Century Fox release of a 20th Century Fox Animation presentation of a Blue Sky Studios production. Produced by Lori Forte, Jerry Davis. Executive producers, William Joyce, James V. Hart.

Crew:

Directed by Chris Wedge. Screenplay, James V. Hart, William Joyce, Dan Shere, Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember, from a story by Joyce, Hart, Wedge. Camera (Deluxe color), Renato Falcao; editor, Andy Keir; music, Danny Elfman; production designers, Greg Couch, William Joyce; art director, Michael Knapp; sound (Dolby Atmos/Datasat/SDDS), Randy Thom; supervising sound editor, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle; re-recording mixers, Thom, Lora Hirschberg; stereoscopic supervisor, Daniel Abramovich; lighting supervisor, Haji Uesato; casting, Christian Kaplan.

With:

Colin Ferrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler, Beyonce Knowles

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content