dir: Chris Wedge
Epic is about the tiny goings on of a tiny bunch of people-like creatures. Hence, the irony of the title.
There is the eternal battle between the forces of life, and the forces of decay, and the conflict between fathers and their children, but, really, let's be honest, it's about fairies and goblins.
Sure, they call them Leafmen and Boggans (no, not bogans, though it’s hard to resist making the joke), but let's call a spade a dirt-shovelling device: goddamn fairies!
I don't mind fairies and forest spirits and such. They're in almost every book I read to my angelic/demonic offspring, they're in most of the kid's flicks we see together in eye- and wallet-gouging 3D, and they date back to the myths and legends of most cultures and nations.
Really, though, it's about fairies.
It's hard for me to drum up too much enthusiasm for fairy-related shenanigans, even when Tinkerbell isn't involved.
All this negativity makes it sound like I didn't like the film. The fact is I enjoy almost any film or movie I watch with my daughter if she enjoys it, because her enjoyment is as infectious as her colds and shingles are.
And she declared this film "Awesome!" at the end, and was entirely entranced throughout.
That's no guarantee of quality, sad to say. Everything in her world is either awesome or the worst. Try to give her something new to eat? It's the worst thing she's ever tasted. Give her something she likes in a familiar package? It's the most awesome thing in the history of forever.
We’re all a bit like that. And, if the trailers preceding this flick are any indication, and they are, we just want the same things over and over again in shinier old packages.
Epic is about a girl calling herself MK (Amanda Seyfried) who goes to live with her estranged dad once her mother dies. Yes, I know it sounds incredibly familiar, that's the whole point of my world-weary intro.
She accidentally stumbles across a world where she's miniaturised, because, magic, why else? And she ends up trying to save the handsome, beautiful forces of the Light, I mean Nature, against the mean, ugly forces of the Dark, I mean Decay. The Leafmen, led by some humourless uptight guy (voiced by Colin Farrell, the only time a derelict like him is going to play a stolid authority figure), try to protect Queen Tara and her pod (not a euphemism) from the evil Boggans (led by some guy voiced by Christoph Waltz).
It’s utterly straightforward, utterly predictable and utterly commonplace. It’s still fun, even if it’s not even worth a tenth of a Hayao Miyazaki – Studio Ghibli animated film.
It’s not as if I demand every film be as good as that, but I hope, desperately, especially when I see an animated movie with Nature Is Wonderful themes, that it could be as impressive or as awe-inspiring and as sometimes complicated as something like Nausicca Valley of the Winds, Arrietty or the even better Princess Mononoke, which this almost reminded me of.
It almost got me into a Miyazaki-like mood. The lush depictions of the forest and its beautiful expressions of life were moving. I have heard the idea that we, like the leaves of a tree, are individuals connected by life to each other, one vast tree upon which we all depend, many times, but it’s an idea that appeals to me deeply. At the very least it appeals to that tiny bit of me not drowned by whisky and cynicism.
The problem I have with Epic is that it depicts what happens in a forest in terms of good and evil, that ‘life’ is Good and ‘decay’, meaning death, is Bad. Not to get all Circle of Life Hakuna Matata on your arses, but life and death are natural complements to each other in a forest, any forest, even the ones that have little people running around in them. Without the decay of the forest floor, there’s no nutrients for the trees, or all the other ecosystems that depend on that decaying vegetable and animal manner. It’s beyond simplistic to depict part of that cycle as an evil that must be fought and destroyed. It’s so simplistic as to be, dare I say it, quite dumb.
I know that doesn’t seem that relevant, but if you ignore those elements of it, you’re basically left analysing the mechanics of a plot where people do a bunch of stuff you’ve seen a thousand times before. If a film from 2013 is reminding you of Avatar; a film so generic in its very nature that it rendered the term ‘rip-off’ eternally redundant, then you’re seeing something as familiar as the bedroom ceiling or the bathroom floor that you wake up looking at on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong though, despite all the reasons I’m giving you to do so, I was entertained as I was watching it. MK is a whiny protagonist, but it’s sort-of fun watching her navigate this strange place just outside her dad’s house. Her motivations don’t make a lot of sense, and Amanda Seyfried’s voice is not one I like listening to at the best of times, but she’s our in into the story, so I guess I have to accept her for who she is.
Slightly more annoying (as a character) but enjoyable is Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who is the head-strong, irresponsible young guy who always annoys authority figures until he spontaneously realises, towards the end of a movie, that conforming with the stuff those boring authority figures were saying is the way to get into the animated panties – I mean – the way to save the village / planet / whales and be a hero. With what memory remains to me, as far as I could tell, he looks exactly like the Flynn Ryder character from Tangled, exactly like the guy from Aladdin, which means that male characters even in non-Disney movies are all starting to eerily look the same, in the way the female characters have been different hair-coloured Barbies for decades.
None of this stuff is stuff I was thinking when I was watching it, I have to say. There were fun or funny bits, like hearing the unmistakeable voice of Chris O’Dowd as one of a pair of snails. His Irish brogue, unlike Colin Farrell’s brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it saying something goofy. The other snail / slug thing was irritating, but at least it wasn’t generic, I guess, or at least too generic.
The action is all actiony, and the visuals are solid, appealing and sometimes beautiful. The forest and the life in it loom large, but the natural world comes off looking better than the little people, who had something of a toy-like look to them. I barely remember the story, but I don’t think it matters. It was enjoyable enough for what it was, which is probably the most mealy-mouthed statement I’ve ever made in my life, very much along the lines of “people who like this kind of thing will like it, people who don’t, won’t”, but it’s very much true.
The main thing I was thinking at the end of it was what I was seeing before it started. The surfeit of trailers aimed at kids before this kids’ flick had pretty much the same plots, looked and sound like every other animated flick you’ve ever seen, and mostly emphasised to me that they’re not really making movies aimed at kids that aren’t animated anymore. The only trailer with actual humans in it was The Smurfs 2, which I’m sure will end up being prosecuted as a crime against humanity at The Hague eventually, but even that has animated little blue bastards in it as the main attraction.
I don’t want to be all “get off my lawn” about it, because I understand about the economics of it, but there’s something a bit sad about the fact that now all the flicks aimed at telling decent stories relatable or understandable by the kids are all animated, godsdamnit. Surely reality contains a few elements beautiful or inspiring enough to be worthy of being seen or heard without the visual maelstrom of animation having to dominate everything. And I say that as a huge fan of animation.
Epic is a bit of an adventure, but its ambitions are even tinier that it’s diminutive characters, and that’s saying something.
6 times I hope the sequel has everything that’s small inflated up to gigantic “Honey I Blew Up the Kid” proportions for shenanigans to ensue out of 10
“Oh look, it's Ronin. Defender of the weak, pooper of parties.” - whack that on your business card - Epic