This holiday weekend saw both "The Hangover Part III" and "Fast & Furious 6" hit theaters. That's great news if you're part of the older set, but for those who need something a bit more family friendly, there is "Epic." Inspired by William Joyce's book, "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs" and produced by the animation studio responsible for the "Ice Age" films, "Epic" tells the story of a hidden world in the forest and the eternal struggle between the forces of life and corruption.
The lead character in "Epic" is M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), a teenage girl who has come to live with her eccentric father after her mother passed away. Unable to cope with her father's obsessive belief in a hidden world, M.K. runs away from home, only to stumble upon the very thing her father has spent his whole life chasing. Shrunk to mere inches, M.K. must navigate the miniature world of Moonhaven if she is to have any hope of getting home.
Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) is the one responsible for bringing M.K. to Moonhaven, as she needs someone to ensure a magic leaf pod can bloom in the moonlight an heir to the throne. Should the pod bloom in darkness, the corrupt Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) will gain an heir, and corruption will take over the forest.
Seyfried does an excellent job of portraying M.K. as a young adult who is out of her element. Although M.K. is initially confused and frightened, she quickly comes to accept the situation and attempts to make the best of it. Her interactions with the other characters are generally the best parts of the film, as Seyfried deftly anchors the story.
Playing opposite Seyfried are Colin Farrell (as the serious Leafmen leader, Ronin) and Josh Hutcherson (as the rebellious Nod). Although they are supposed to have history together, Farrell and Hutcherson don't really pull it off. Instead, they simply seem like two soldiers who don't get along. Most of this is due to Hutcherson's portrayal of Nod, who doesn't seem to care about much of anything. Throughout the entire film, the character is constantly joking, even when you'd expect him to be serious. It's as though the character never progresses past what you see in his first scene.
The same can be said of Knowles and her portrayal of Queen Tara. She may be a multimillion-dollar singer, but Knowles fails to put any emotion into the character of Tara. Rather than become the character, it felt as though Knowles was simply going through the motions until the film got to the segment where she got to show off her new song.
If Knowles was the low point of "Epic," her villainous counterpart was certainly the high point. Waltz sells Mandrake with an incredible amount of gusto. Yes, he's the villain, but Mandrake steals the show every time he appears on-screen. What makes the character work is his belief that he's doing what's best for his people, and he'll stop at nothing to accomplish his goals.
Comic relief is provided by Grub (Chris O'Dowd) and Mub (Aziz Ansari). A snail and a slug, their antics are hit or miss. Some scenes are spot-on hilarious, while others fall flat. The comedic misfires have nothing to do with the Ansari or O'Dowd, but rather the timing. Often, the film lingers on them longer than it should, dragging out a joke unnecessarily. It's obvious that director Chris Wedge was trying to model these two after Scrat (who Wedge also voiced) in "Ice Age," but they never quite manage the breakout status of the iconic saber-toothed squirrel.
Unfortunately, the same can be said about "Epic" as a whole. The movie seems to have all the necessary parts to be a hit, and it is enjoyable, but it never really knocks it out of the park. On a technical level, "Epic" is visually stunning, but on a story level, it moves forward in lurches and chunks, rather than a smooth progression. When everything is in sync, it has moments of wow, but those are tempered by the sections where it falls far short of its full potential.
When all is said and done, "Epic" is a decent, but ultimately forgettable family film. The CG work is great, but the story and pacing just can't compete with the likes of Pixar or Studio Ghibli.
"Epic" is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hours and 43 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and 3-D.
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