Film Review – Epic
You either have a lot of confidence in your work or a lot of arrogance if you call your movie Epic. As enjoyable as the Blue Sky Studios releases have been in recent years (I still think Rio should’ve won the Academy Award), it seems like a Babe Ruth-ian declaration to give your movie that illustrious title. The story of Epic tells of another world in nature, beyond the awareness of humans, that is an ongoing battle between the forces of life and decay. On the eve of a transition of leadership for the forces of life, a young woman, Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), is shrunk and sucked into the middle of this battle for survival.
The best way to explain Epic is that it’s as if it was created by an alien who is familiar with our culture. Empirically, all the right pieces are there, but when they come together, there is just something that feels off. The animation is solid, the 3D is decent, the voice talent is generally enjoyable…but at its core, the film is missing that “heart” that separates the great animated films from the also-rans. The story is clearly based on a simple formula: hero is put in a fish-out-of-water situation; hero realizes they didn’t appreciate what they had; the villain is defeated. At its core, it is just another rehashing of the hero’s journey, and unfortunately Blue Sky doesn’t do anything to embellish that or make it unique and interesting. It feels like the idea for this movie was “wouldn’t Honey I Shrunk the Kids be really awesome in 3D?” and they worked backwards from that to create an original story. This is particularly hard to wrap your mind around when you consider that there are six credited writers. That should set off alarms…there should be no way you need six people to write this.
One of the nice choices in the movie is to put a female character front and center. Unfortunately, this is a poor attempt at being progressive, as she mostly needs protection from the male characters throughout. It isn’t until the end that she finally comes into her own, and even then it is largely as the mechanism to get other people to save the day, rather than as the solution herself. It seems like animated movies are on the verge of moving towards gender equality, but aren’t ready to go all in—which is kind of absurd when you are dealing with a film that has slugs as key players. It is amazing that our culture still resists this growth. In some ways, it is more insulting to only go in halfway on Seyfried’s character than to not have her at all.
Despite the massive worldwide success of Blue Sky Studios, it still doesn’t get the same respect as Pixar or Dreamworks. Their animation work has been as good as any, and Epic is a pretty good opportunity to showcase it, since the film utilizes the vibrant color palette of life and muted colors of death. In the last decade, Rio and Horton Hears a Who! shocked me with a fantastic blend of impressive animation, great story, and heart. This isn’t to say any of the studios are flawless—even Pixar doesn’t have an unblemished record. But while they have produced solid content in recent years, now it seems like Blue Sky Studios are shooting for commercial success over quality—a mistake it has taken Dreamworks Animation a long time to understand. For that reason, this a missed opportunity for Blue Sky to expand their place in the animation market.
The casting of the movie seems to focus more on name recognition than appropriateness to the roles. Sure, the film is going to get a lot of attention having people like Beyoncé Knowles, Josh Hutcherson, and Amanda Seyfried, but they don’t bring anything unique or special to their roles. One of the elements that has made Pixar so successful is that they form a mixture of both famous actors and character actors. The most entertaining part of Epic was the snail/slug duo of Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari. They provide nice comic relief, but also end up being responsible for a lot of what heart is present. The biggest problem is that none of the main characters really feel worth connecting to…you follow them on their journey, but have little investment in the outcome. If anything, Christoph Waltz is the most entertaining of the core cast, and it feels weird to enjoy the villain more than the heroes in a children’s movie.
Epic will likely do well with families; it has plenty of cute characters and funny moments to sustain the attention span of a child. Unfortunately, unlike the best animated movies, it fails to work on multiple levels and engage adults. If there is a lasting message to take away from the movie, I hope it is that we need to preserve the forest eco-system, because the plot is fading out of my mind faster than Leonardo Shelby’s in Memento.
Final Grade: C