By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Don’t let the title fool you: Epic is a tall tale that’s also a small tale.
It comes from director Chris Wedge. In Ice Age and Robots, Wedge delivered animated adventure comedies that were bright, engaging, funny, visually striking, generously detailed, and enjoyable. Yet neither ascends to that heady place that makes a feature-length cartoon classic, unforgettable, and repeat-viewings watchable.
The same could be said about Epic, which is certainly passable entertainment for the kids, even if it even falls a tad short of Ice Age and Robots.
Epic is the larger-than-life story of some smaller-than-life creatures, tiny civilizations living in the trees and bushes and protecting their forest. It’s the tale of a group of miniscule Leaf Men and the human teenager, Mary Katherine, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, who gets magically transported into their microscopic universe by being shrunk down to their size.
Thus does she become part of the battle between the well-intentioned warriors for good (the Leaf Men) and the evil creatures known as Boggans, who are forces of decay and rot aiming to destroy their world.
This is an especially meaningful development for the motherless Mary Katherine because she is estranged from her father (Jason Sudeikis), a widowed scientist who has been discredited by the scientific community because he has devoted his career to the study of the unseen little people he believes live in the woods surrounding his house, escaping detection by all humans but him.
Now, after thinking her dad has been off the deep end all these years, she realizes that his scientific theories, which have distracted him from having much to do with the 17-year-old to this point, really do have validity.
The creature with whom the shrunken Mary Katherine most directly bonds is Nod, voiced by Josh Hutcherson, a rebellious swashbuckler whose self-absorbed ways sometimes clash with the devotion to teamwork that usually characterizes the Leaf Men, whose credo is “Many leaves, One tree.”
Like Mary Katherine, Nod is alienated and disconnected within his world.
Mary Katherine also joins forces with such other members of this small world (after all) as Ronin (Colin Farrell), the army commander and Nod’s uncle; the queen of the forest (Beyoncé); slug and snail wiseacres (ChrisO’Dowd and Aziz Ansari); and a slacker of a caterpillar (Steven Tyler).
Opposing them is an army of flying insects led by the Boggan leader, Mandrake (Christoph Waltz).
Wedge and his animators do a commendable job of creating an entire world based in nature. But the film pays a price for its emphasis on its visual distinctiveness, which is undeniable, because the voice actors don’t really get the opportunity to establish and develop their characters in ways that would make them enchanting rather than merely diverting.
That may be the fault of the committee-written script by James V. Hart, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Asle, Matt Ember, and William Joyce, loosely based on Joyce’s eco-themed book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.
The narrative has plenty of plot and population, but it never allows any of the characters to fully emerge.
So we’ll shrink 2½ stars out of 4. Epic doesn’t quite live up to its title, but it’s pleasant and kid-friendly, does see the forest for the trees, and shouldn’t bug the grownups.