Epic, the latest animated film from Blue Sky Studios (best known for the Ice Age franchise) tells the story of Mary Katherine “MK” (Amanda Seyfried), a teenager coming to live with her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) following the death of her mother. Bomba is an eccentric man studying what he believes to be a civilization of microscopic sprites living in his backyard. His obsession with this Atlantis of the forest is what cost him his marriage and a meaningful relationship with his daughter years ago, and MK is skeptical that her father will change now.
But MK soon discovers that her father isn’t a crazy kook as she is unwittingly transported to Moonhaven, a world of tiny Leafmen (and women), whimsical Jinn, and other magical creatures under the protection of Queen Tara. When Moonhaven is threatened by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his hoard of rot-bringing Boggans, MK takes up arms with Leafmen Ronin (Colin Farrell), and Nod (Josh Hutcherson) to ward off the aggressors.
At first glance, Epic may appear to be a Frankenstein’s monster of other fantasy epics. Films such as Avatar, Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, and Alice in Wonderland come to mind (the film is actually inspired by William Joyce’s The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs). These comparisons are valid, and I believe the film to be unabashedly forthright in its inspiration, given Epic is the title. It’s not meant to be self-referential, but reminiscent of many childhood fairytale favorites, a cinematic assembly that builds a custom world out of classic parts. What makes Epic novel is its beautifully rendered art design. A mix of Victorian steampunk and lush bright watercolor that is both ethereal and wonderfully detailed.
The voice cast is nothing short of incredible, and while it’s easy to be critical of a film for relying heavily on celebrities in animated features, this is not the case for Epic. Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd, who voice Mub the slug and Grub the snail respectively, are especially entertaining as the obligatory ‘wisecracking sidekicks.’ But instead of being merely comedic relief, Ansari and O’Dowd give these characters motivations and personalities that mesh into the world around them and are integral to the plot. Beyonce also deserves kudos for her soulful performance that lends the perfect amount of gravitas and quiet power to Queen Tara.
MK herself may be the most interesting character in the film, getting more characterization than most male heroes in the same genre. She is given a complex situation to overcome, one born out of divorce and parental death, a combination that is rare in children’s entertainment. Her uncomfortable relationship with her father in the beginning of the film provides the impetus for MK to accept the hero’s journey that is thrust upon her and keeps her open to the lessons that allow her to grow. I’m a sucker for films with interesting female protagonists and Epic provides two in MK and Queen Tara.
The story of Epic itself is an intimate one, despite the indications of the title, and is a soaring tribute to the imagination of the past and its place in the future.
Epic opens today in Philly area theaters.