Epic draws viewers into a compelling micro-universe, an intricate, vivid environment where nature is constantly battling the forces of chaos.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
Too bad this lively place from the production company behind the Ice Age franchise is also filled with stock characters that pop up in most every animated world Hollywood has constructed of late.
Take a closer look at the backyard and youll see signs of a hidden struggle, explains Mary Katherine, aka M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried).
After her mothers death, the melancholy teen moves in with her estranged father, Professor Bomba (KCs Jason Sudeikis). The scatterbrained scientist has spent decades trying to prove that Lilliputian beings populate the acreage around his house. Hes set up remote cameras to capture their fleeting images, speculating that they move as fast as the colorful hummingbirds they ride as mounts.
At ground level, Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) of the Leafmen prepares to pass on her regenerative powers to ensure the forest remains safe from the rotting encroachment of Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his army of bat-riding Boggans. Things go amiss. M.K. gets magically dragged into this world and entrusted with a perilous mission to keep nature in balance.
Epic is based on The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by author William Joyce, whose work also inspired last years enjoyable Rise of the Guardians. The movie version (directed by Chris Wedge of Ice Age) draws more influence from Avatar, with its lush flora and varied fauna locked in a symbiotic relationship.
Many leaves, one tree. Were all connected, Leafman Ronin (Colin Farrell) is fond of saying.
Like Avatar, the action sequences are frequent and exceptional, from zooming aerial battles to comedic chases involving Bombas three-legged pet pug. Its also one of the years most visually distinctive movies. The yin-yang of the verdant Leafmen facing off against the gray, decaying world of the Boggans is often dazzling.
All this is thrilling enough to divert viewers from the formulaic elements like M.K., the typical rebellious teen heroine; loner hero (Josh Hutcherson); and the talking creature sidekicks as comic relief. This is a movie that offers no logic as to what critters are anthropomorphized and what are simply animals. Seems like a chipmunk would be more likely to speak than a slug. Not here.
The films chief inconsistency is the voice work. The leads are fine, but the supporting work ranges from reliable to jarringly bad.
Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler is energetically charming as a wise caterpillar who is part Yoda and part Yogurt (the Mel Brooks spoof from Spaceballs). But pop star Beyonce is particularly ill-suited for the queen. Yes, she can sing (although she doesnt here). But theres nothing remotely regal or even pleasant about her speaking voice. Its like that SNL sketch where Fred Armisen portrays Queen Elizabeth with a cockney, hooligan accent.
And accents are all over the place in Epic. Distractingly so. Kinda weird that the only two characters with an Irish brogue are the warrior leader of the Leafmen and a talking snail.
This begs the question of whether stars actually attract people to an animated kids movie. Some of Pixars top films (The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille) are voiced by actors unrecognizable to most children. Is the celebrity billing so parents will want to go?
Epic could be even more epic if its casting was built around ordinary actors.