(2013)3Jason BuchananThe scope is at once miniscule and monumental in Ice Age director Chris Wedge's derivative yet visually arresting Epic, a vibrant blend of The Borrowers, Horton Hears a Who, and Alice in Wonderland, served up in Star Wars trappings. Wedge's third feature outing scores points for spot-on voice casting, satisfying characterization, and sweeping action in the context of a story that's just original enough to stand on its own two legs, ensuring an exciting trip into a wondrous world for parents and children alike.
The story begins in the deep forest, where Professor Bomba (voice of Jason Sudeikis) has been searching obsessively for the evidence to confirm his theory of a microscopic society that exists beneath the foliage. Though the proof Professor Bomba needs to back up his claim has so far been elusive, the fact is he's 100-percent correct -- a tiny race of humanoids known as the Leaf Men may be the forest's only hope for survival. Meanwhile, the professor's estranged daughter M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) wanders back into his life, having come to live with him in the country after losing her mother.
M.K. feels isolated in her new surroundings and decides to leave, but she soon stumbles upon the dying leader of the Leaf Men, Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), who entrusts her with a pod with the power to save the forest. In the process, M.K. is shrunk down to the size of the Leaf Men, and learns that the villainous Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) seeks to prevent the pod from blossoming under the light of the full moon, which would ensure the continued balance of nature in the forest and give the people their new queen.
Together with the help of brave Leaf Man warrior Ronin (Colin Farrell), rebellious adrenaline junkie Nod (Josh Hutcherson), snail Mub (Aziz Ansari), slug Grub (Chris O'Dowd), and the wise caterpillar Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler), M.K. must fight to prevent Mandrake and his dark army from acquiring the pod and spreading decay. Should Mandrake succeed, all of nature will wither away, spelling certain doom for all creatures great and small.
We live in an era when even "original" stories possess a distinct whiff of familiarity, and as the race to dethrone the Disney/Pixar behemoth heats up, it's only logical that competitors will try to tweak their winning formulas for success. With its magical hidden world, regal characters, and courageous young female protagonist, Epic runs the risk of being little more than a hodgepodge of fairy-tale clichés. For bleary-eyed parents who've been forced to sit through virtually every Disney feature multiple times, Epic's plot will seem hopelessly predictable from the time we first glimpse the pod and learn of Mandrake's dark plan.
Fortunately, screenwriters William Joyce (who also penned the book Epic is based on), James V. Hart, Dan Shere, Matt Ember, and Tom J. Astle show a talent for endearing characterization that helps to offset the sneaking suspicion that we're staring into the recycling bin, while director Wedge brings a sense of momentum to the story that sweeps us up for the ride. By paralleling the experiences of M.K. and Nod, the writers find a fluid means of alternating between their two worlds as the story calls for it, while also managing to bring some unexpected depth and humor to the proceedings, most notably in a hilarious chase scene involving a half-blind, three-legged pug. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Epic is a visual marvel to behold, with the light and shadows of the forest coming together in a colorful dance that's genuinely dazzling.
Unlike the very best family movies, Epic mildly glosses over some of the themes that might have made it a bit more appealing to adults, but unlike the very worst, it doesn't simply jettison them to make room for insipid musical numbers that leave parents wishing they'd brought earplugs. Whether or not it paves the way for another lucrative 20th Century Fox franchise like Ice Age remains to be seen, but even if this lively adventure is only good for a single outing, it's still one that's well-worth embarking on.
A teenage girl finds herself transported to a secret universe where she must join forces with a team of whimsical creatures to battle the forces of evil that are trying to destroy their world in this adventure comedy based on author William Joyce's illustrated children's book The Leaf Men.