Before the starting pistol is even fired, Epic gets a wrong footing with the unfortunate title bestowed upon it. A clambering and oddly desperate attempt to attach ambiguous affectation to a film that not only says nothing about the film, but also fails to be an adequate descriptor. Even the word “epic” itself, outside of its application in this film, seems stripped of its potential gravitas through an increase in flippant uses to describe things that are in fact, not very epic at all. Thus, the animation studio Blue Sky, in calling their newest action adventure film Epic, have done themselves a disservice from the very beginning: promising something that it certainly does not deliver and all on the back of an unironic word association that it seemingly does not culturally understand. Putting that factor to the side (after all, a bad title doesn’t make a bad film (see Good Will Hunting)), Epic fails at redeeming it’s clunky header and certainly is the frustrating film it initially suggests.
The film centres on a young girl named MK (Amanda Seyfried) who comes to live with her eccentric scientist father Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) after the death of her mother. Professor Bomba resides in a broken down house in the country side and has made it his life’s work to seek out the existence of what he believes to be a race of tiny but advanced people living in the forest outside his home (much to the dismay of everyone around him, especially MK). The professor is in fact correct however, and upon further scrutiny it is revealed that the forest is mediated by a group of soldiers called Leafmen who protect the forest from the evil forces of Boggans (lead by the wicked Mandrake (Christoph Waltz)) who seek control through decay and destruction. After becoming disillusioned with her father’s obsession, MK leaves the house, only to stumble across a battle occurring between the two clans in which the queen of the forest Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) is killed. Through some form of natural magic MK is shrunken to the size of a Leafman and is instructed to preserve a pod that will somehow save the forest. She is joined by soldiers Ronin (Colin Farrell) and Nod (Josh Hutcherson), as well as two comedic gastropods Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O’Dowd).
Epic essentially consists of a series of overly familiar archetypes with celebrity voices pinned to them like fashion mannequins. Not a single performer here integrates with their character, mainly because their characters are simply formulaic constructions of classic adventure tropes, but also because of the casting choices. Unlike animation powerhouse Pixar, much of the talent chosen here fits a particular generic purpose. From the earthy tones of Beyoncé to the “hilarious” contrast of goofy comedians Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari and even to the potentially offensive exoticism of Christoph Waltz as the malicious Boggan leader, the voice actors here feel like slapdash paint jobs over mouldy wallpaper. Nobody truly commits to any form of nuanced work, and in reality none of them really need to, the voice casting here is as predictable as Epicitself.
As a film that supports eco-friendly sentiments and environmental co-existence, Epicends up occupying a noble space in the realm of children’s entertainment. In an attempt to promote the preservationist values of the Leafmen, the film involves an inclusive community in which all of the forest’s creature live off and support the land on which they call home. On the surface, it’s a dignified position to portray, however even within this Epic fails to see that it’s stigmatising of those who seek destruction includes the Boggans ecological allies, such as the crows, bats and rats they use for transport. Every creature of the forest deserves equal share, except for the grotesque ones it seems. Even the use of animals as transport seems odd, and while it isn’t on the level of Avatar’s “ikran” rape, the fact that these birds aren’t anthropomorphised like other creatures is noticeable. Admittedly, it’s a strange observation to make, but in the realm of animal rights and power hierarchies, children’s films tend to be the main battleground for such discussion. One only has to watch a single minute of Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua franchise to question the intentions of exploiting animals in such a way. Epic is nowhere near as disastrous, but these selective choices existing in such an archetypal film seem problematic on their own small scale.
Sure Epic looks wonderful, but with the rapidly growing sophistication of digital tools to create such images, the visual argument barely holds much water. Some inspired sequences involving MK’s confrontation with the enormous family dog are humorous, and the rendering of landscape images is certainly something to behold, but at the end of the day Epic provides no new insights and further frustrates the potential for the application of such incredible new digital technologies.