Once again, I am reminded of the benefits of lowered expectations. When the first trailers came out nearly six months ago, I was pretty optimistic. The beautiful animation, the perfect use of Snow Patrol’s What if the Storm Ends, and the overall “epic” feel of it all made me believe that maybe, just maybe it would be able to rise above the sea of animated movies that pander to kids without giving anything substantial for adults to chew on. And the characters started talking. From that point on, the more I saw from the trailers, the more I resigned myself to the likelihood that this would basically be a dolled-up reincarnation of the Ice Age movies which originally catapulted Blue Sky Animation into the big leagues. This would have meant shallow characters, unimaginative plots, and unbearable comic relief characters. In the end, though, that resignation was probably one of the biggest factors which led me to enjoy the movie as much as I did, so perhaps those trailers weren’t so pointless after all. Abundant genre cliches rob it of most of the punch it could have had, but an interestingly executed premise along with a surprisingly decent script make Epic one of the most worthy pieces of family entertainment I’ve seen all year.
The Plot: 7/10
A teenager finds herself transported to a deep forest setting where a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil is taking place. She bands together with a rag-tag group characters in order to save their world — and ours.
On the surface, the premise of Epic isn’t the most original thing in the world. If you replace the logging crew with an army of tiny decay-obsessed creatures called Boggans, the IMDb synopses are pretty much identical between Epic and FernGully. Once you get beyond that synopsis though, the movie does a lot to differentiate itself from a lot of the similar family fare we’ve seen before. Aside from the obvious aspect of an inter-forest war between the forces of growth and decay, there are a few aspects that are added into the plot that are used in some pretty interesting ways. Specifically, there’s an added dimension to the smaller world that everything on that level moves at a faster speed of time, i.e. “The world through the eyes of a fly”, which causes everyone in the big world to look and sound like they’re moving in slow motion. Unfortunately, this mechanic is used pretty unevenly and there are more than a few scenes in which it seems to be ignored altogether.
The Writing: 6/10
Remembering the fact that Ice Age: Continental Drift was Blue Sky Animation’s last film released before Epic, I was fully prepared for the writing to absolutely ruin the movie. The fact that it didn’t is an achievement all on its own, even if nothing present is exactly stellar by most standards. The characters are entirely archetypal, bordering on cliche in some cases. The most serious offender here is Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a rebellious, handsome, orphaned love interest who is essentially a carbon copy of Flynn from Tangled. That being said, I do agree with my highly feminist girlfriend that it was nice to see M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) get more of an active role than female characters usually get in movies like this.
All of that aside, the area of the writing that I really thought would derail the entire movie was the comic relief. As anyone who’s seen the last few Ice Age movies is aware of, Blue Sky has had a lot of trouble finding a level of a level of comedy that works for kids without making everyone over the age of ten want to shoot themselves. Usually, this happens through a combination of bad puns, exaggerated physical comedy and characters that are so stupid that they just become obnoxious. From the trailers, it seemed like this kind of lame attempt at humor might be rampant in certain characters. Thankfully, though, the humor here is far less annoying than you actually expect, reminding us that Epic comes from the guy who directed the first Ice Age and not the following three.
The Voice Acting: 7/10
Along with the writing, I thought this would be a constant source of annoyance in the movie. After all, the singer-turned-actor is typically a pretty solid guarantee of imminent disaster and with Beyonce Knowles, Pitbull and Steven Tyler on the roster it was hard to think Epic would be able to buck the trend. I was very pleasantly surprised by how little this was the case, as each character has a fairly small role in which their voices don’t distract from the characters they are playing. This “blending in” extended to nearly every member of the rest of the cast too, which is especially impressive in respect to Ronin as it’s not easy for Colin Farrell to sound like anything other than Colin Farrell.
Even the snail/slug pairing of Mub and Grub (Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd) was surprisingly funny at times. I love Aziz in Parks and Recreation as well as in his Stand Up work, but his voice has the tendency to get really, really annoying if he plays anything too over-the-top. Luckily, he redeems himself quite a bit here after his role in Ice Age 4 and plays well off of O’Dowd’s hard-to-come-by Dorky Irish accent. Not quite as luckily, Christoph Waltz is given a pretty lame villainous role and, even with his inherently sinister German accent, he isn’t quite able to overcome the poor writing.
The Animation: 8/10
As you could have guessed from the trailers, the animation here is pretty gorgeous. My only issue that I’d raise is that the animators were going for a much more crisp, realistic for the characters and environments than many modern animated movies go for, and it doesn’t always work. The film side-steps the Uncanny Valley with its human characters, but the environments around them aren’t always as textured and realistic looking as they were likely shooting for. This might be a non-issue for a lot of people, but after seeing The Croods, Rise of the Guardians and Brave within the past year, I’ve become a bit spoiled in the animation area.
My biggest props to the animation department, however, go towards the actual “Epic” aspects of the movie. The action sequences are very inventive and pretty damn cool to watch, and if I as an adult was able to appreciate them I can only imagine how thrilled younger audiences will be. Judging by the movie’s “A” CinemaScore, it seems like that has been the case so far.
The Verdict: 7.0/10 – Good
+ Interesting execution of an admittedly derivative premise
+ Writing that isn’t nearly as annoying as the trailers might have suggested
+ Voice Acting that doesn’t distract from the characters themselves
- More than a few blatant clichés in terms of plot developments and character types
Rotten Tomatoes: 61 %
The Code is Zeek: 3/5
Fast Film Reviews: 2/5
Average: 6.0/10 – Passable