Dan Lybarger reviews Epic

May 24, 2013

Grade: 82
Director: Chris Wedge
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Beyonce Knowles, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler
Rating: Rated PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language
Running Time: 102 minutes

By Dan Lybarger
for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels

Even if you’re old enough to have seen a story like it before, Chris Wedge’s (The Ice Age) 3D animated forest spectacle Epic is consistently entertaining. Sure, the movie borrows from Gulliver’s Travels, The Borrowers and other tales of tiny folks who influence the world where normal-sized folk reign. At least, it’s more ably handled than the last adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. (Jack Black’s amazing singing voice couldn’t save that one.)

This time around Wedge and the crew at Blue Sky animation are working with William Joyce’s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs and seem energized by working with something other than another sequel to The Ice Age. There’s an energy and a sense of wonder that’s been missing from the umpteenth installment of Ray Romano as a mammoth.

Amanda Seyfried stars as the voice of M.K., a teen who’s annoyed about having to move in with her estranged father Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Her old man has alienated just about everyone else in his life trying to prove there are little, thumb-sized people living outside his decaying house.

To M.K.’s surprise, she discovers that her father, while nerdy and goofy, isn’t mad. When a quirk in the world of magic shrinks her to the size of the beings known as the Leaf Men, M.K. discovers that there’s a war for the future of the forest.

Queen Tara (who else but the regal diva Beyonce Knowles?) has just prepared a new pod that can hold back the forces of decay, if it blooms at midnight on the full moon. Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), the leader of the Boggins, wants to rule the ashes of what might become of the forest, so he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep it from flowering, even if it means the area will look like the aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.

Working diligently to prevent Mandrake from reaching his goal is the humorless general of the Leaf Men Ronin (Colin Farrell) and the impulsive warrior Nod (Josh Hutcherson). While the storyline might be routine, Wedge manages to populate it with lots of charming supporting characters. By casting against type, he occasionally finds some unexpectedly delightful performances. Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari are a riot as a snail and a slug whose help isn’t that helpful.

The most pleasant surprise is the bizarre but inspired casting of Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler as an all-knowing caterpillar named Nim Galu. The moonlighting singer’s voice sounds oddly at home behind the bug’s cuddly exterior, and he demonstrates a warmth that might shock those who saw him as a caustic judge on American Idol. That might have something to do with the fact that only he and Knowles do any of the singing in this film.

As they demonstrated in Rio, the Blue Sky animators know how to create dozens of eye-popping delights without losing track of the story. These folks do a lot better when they have a worthwhile story to tell, even much of the content of epic has been done before.

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