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Epic ••½

Epic_(2013_film)_posterStarring the voice talents of: Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Beyonce Knowles
Director: Chris Wedge
Screenplay James Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom Astle, Matt Ember
Children/Animation/Fantasy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 102 minutes


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just saw Epic, the new computer animated fantasy-adventure film based on William Joyce’s book.

Indeed we did, and I’d say it was neither a good Epic nor a good fantasy. Let’s recap.

The movie begins with a young woman, Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), visiting her eccentric father who lives and works deep in a remote forest. We learn that Mary Katherine (who prefers the initials MK) has a rocky relationship with her dad, whose obsession with finding a civilization of tiny creatures in the forest caused his marriage to fail and his family relationships to suffer. One day MK ventures into the forest and inadvertently stumbles upon Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), the tiny monarch of all life in the woodlands. Tara has been mortally wounded but lives long enough to shrink MK down to size and assign MK the task of bringing a magic pod to a showy glowworm named Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler).

MK is aided by brash young Nod (Josh Hutcherson) who is one of the soldiers of the Leaf Brigade. He suffers from being too independent. He is unable to follow orders given by troop leader Ronin (Colin Farrell) and marches to his own drum. This makes Nod a bit untrustworthy. Also, along for the ride, are Mub and Grub (Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd), two slugs who offer comic relief. Together they must battle the forces of decay (the Boggans) who are constantly trying to kill off all living vegetation. Their goal is to prevent MK and friends from delivering the magic pod to Nim Galuu who will then use the pod to select a new queen and usher in another 100 years of bountiful forest living.

Well, Greg, based on what you said at the outset of this review, I’m almost afraid to say, without ducking for cover, that I thought this movie was good. Now keep in mind I make this positive assessment knowing that the film is intended for a young audience. I would say the target audience is roughly 5 to 12-year-olds. Is this a movie for adults? Probably not, but adults can certainly enjoy the absolutely stunning animations.

Scott, I’ll give you the visuals. Producers Blue Sky Studios (of Ice Age fame) did a great job of creating a spectacular forest and articulated characters of all sorts. If all you want is a pretty picture, then you won’t be disappointed by Epic. However, as you say, this is a film for youngsters and as such it glosses over some important story elements. For example, the story doesn’t explain what happened to MK’s mother or Nod’s father. But as adults we know that they have died. I am OK with glossing over these details for younger children. However, many scenes in this movie are very scary, dark and deal with death directly. Characters are killed off right before our eyes. Hiding off-screen parental death but showing on-screen death is an incongruity that I can’t reconcile.

Greg, this incongruity didn’t bother me, perhaps because I didn’t see much of one. Yes, the screenwriters omit the details of the death of MK’s mom and Nod’s dad. It’s a kids movie and we don’t need to get too nitty gritty there. And you’re right that many of the bad guys are pierced by flying arrows, but these deaths are shown antiseptically with no sign of pain or blood. (Strangely enough, the good guys never seem to die or get hurt, with the exception of Queen Tara). So I think it’s largely a non-issue. I stand by my opinion that the movie, overall, offers up an exemplary hero story.

Consider the character of MK, the film’s hero. She is strong, courageous female lead character who serves as a great role model to boys and girls alike. She displays nearly all of the characteristics of a great hero – courage, intelligence, resilience, selflessness, kindness, and inspiration. As you know, female heroes are rare in the movies and so I truly welcome this film’s portrayal of her as a heroic figure.

I’ll grant you that MK is a good hero, but I wish she were less of a damsel in distress. Most of the action scenes are stolen by the men doing the fighting and MK clutching the magic pod. Compare MK to Mirada from last year’s Brave. Mirada did the actual fighting in that film. MK by contrast appears to be the custodian of a magical pod – I’ll let you read the metaphor there.

I also had trouble with the basic premise of good and evil in this film. Apparently the forest is the battlefield of the constant struggle between the forces of decay and the forces of life. That is, the forces of decay (the Boggans) are constantly trying to kill off the forces of life (the Leaf People). Fairy tales and myth are stories that explain the world we live in – as metaphor. I could follow the life-giving characters in the story. But I didn’t recognize the Boggans as elements of decay. You can easily point to the forces of life (trees, grass, birds, insects) but I just don’t understand where a child might go into the forest and point to the forces of decay.

It seemed to me that the filmmakers were attempting to anthropomorphize the time-honored struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. And because we’re in a forest setting, this struggle is portrayed as the battle between those seeking to preserve lush green plantlife versus those seeking to destroy it. I’m not sure why, but I did buy into the fantasy.

I will concede to you that MK is portrayed, at times, as dependent on the Leaf Men for protection. But there are also plenty of scenes where she performs impressive physical feats to escape trouble, and let’s not forget the clever clue that she leaves her father which ultimately saves the world. MK rocks as a hero.

One of the delights of Epic is its large array of colorful supporting characters. There is the father, the love interest, the queen, the magic seer, the leader of the Leaf Men, and a bevy of sidekicks including a couple of lovable bi-optic slugs. There are also the villainous Boggans, led by the evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his own nefarious sidekick. Most of these characters really grew on me — although I confess that the slugs wore out their welcome rather quickly.

We agree on that last point. The slugs were poor comic relief. I found myself wishing for the likes of Timone and Pumba from Disney’s The Lion King.

I was very disappointed in this film. It has been advertised for nearly a year at our local theater and I was expecting good things. I felt it was too violent and dark for younger viewers. I didn’t like the struggle between decay and life. I feel that Epic is the Fern Gully for a new generation – without the political overtones. I can only give it 2 Reels out of 5. While the hero characters are mythic (including a nice “atonement with the father“) I don’t think they were the focus of the film – the artistry seemed to be central here. I give Epic 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-2 Heroes: superman-3

Epic achieves its goal of providing 100 minutes of solid entertainment for children. It does so by serving up a classic and fun-filled hero story that features nearly all of the elements of the hero’s journey, such as the hero’s call to adventure, her entry into a dangerous new world, her search for something missing in her life, her encounter with helpers along the way plus a love interest, her recovery of what was missing, and her return to her original world.

These key hero elements, plus the remarkable animations, earn the film 3 Reels out of 5. (I would give it 4 Reels if I were a child). From my perspective, the outstanding story of a young woman setting out to develop a relationship with her father earns the movie 4 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-3 Heroes: superman-4

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