Having been aggressively previewed at kids’ motion pictures for more than a year, and coming as it did on a weekend in which there was pretty much nothing to do except seek out any movie that would occupy the family, Epic was the only game in town for those, like me, stuck on a four-day weekend with kids too young to stay home alone. So Epic it was, and I can’t say we were sorely disappointed.
The story, which is based on The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce, is one of those allegorical fables in which the little creatures of Nature are stand-ins for how we humans are supposed to treat our environs. Here the natural world is graced by the soothing presence of Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), who seems more intent on flirting with Gen. Ronin (Colin Farrell) than that whole eco-friendly thing. Tara’s about to choose her successor, but is sideswiped in that effort by the evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his swarms of termite-type minions. The minions might be part of the overall living world, but are like those relatives you pretend not to remember exist. Meanwhile, back in homo-sapienville, MK (Amanda Seyfried) returns to live with her scientist dad (Jason Sudeikis) after her beloved mother dies. Dad is kindhearted but absent-minded, more interested in discovering a secret world inhabited by little critters than in finding out how MK is faring. After yet another father-daughter misunderstanding leads to harsh words, MK rushes out into the wilderness, where, through the miracle of 3D animation, she gets shrunk down to little-creature size and is entrusted by Tara to protect the successor to her throne.
The blend of Oz-ian homesick blues and any number of Mother Nature fables is generally appealing, and extremely beautiful. The moviemakers demonstrate tremendous creativity and wit in fashioning the look of the leaf warriors and their nemeses, not to mention a chubby caterpillar who serves as a sort of Swami and is deftly voiced by Steven Tyler. Director Chris Wedge seems to have provided just the right guidance to his talented cast, but still, one strains to keep focused. There’s so much that is grandiose and vivid, and not just because of the 3D, that the smaller, er, human elements get lost and in the process. This greatly diminishes the potential staying power of this movie. Still, on a day when it seemed as nothing of sunshine and blossoms would ever come again, Epic wasn’t a complete washout.