On a whim, my children and I wandered into the local theater and plonked down an absurd sum to watch Epic in 3-D, a movie I knew very little of at the time. All I had heard was that there was a strong female lead, a great voice over cast, and something about fairies, and all that seemed good enough for us on a hot afternoon. As it turns out, that was just scratching the surface.
I’m not sure this is one that will stand the test of time the way The Secret World of Arrietty does (after a week, much of it has fallen out of my head already), and the title is certainly overstated. But honestly, little of that matters when you’re jonesing for a decent summer film for your kids to beat the heat for a few hours.
Epic does offer quite good family entertainment with stunning animation from the makers of Ice Age and Rio, a great Danny Elfman score, and the exploration of themes I’m happy to have my children think more about–and that we’re still continuing to discuss.
Epic is part fairy story, part Tolkien-esque battle of good and evil (in fact, wow, does the art direction take cues from Peter Jackson’s LOTR films) and part eco-adventure–only, mercifully, without some of the more on-the-nose moralizing we’ve come to expect from films like Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest and even Avatar.
The animated story opens with MK (Amanda Seyfried), a newly motherless teen coming to live for the first time with her wacky recluse scientist of a father (wonderfully voiced by Jason Sudeikis) on the outskirts of a forest, where he believes there is a secret society of tiny little people he’s determined to find.
(“Oh great,” my seven-year-old sighed, “another movie where the mother is dead.” Kids are smart. Why do filmmakers keep doing that?)
MK of course is skeptical of her father’s theories, ready to chalk him up as insane and leave him as her mother did. And yet, through a series of magical events, she finds herself shrunk down and living among the earthy fairy creatures who are led by a benevolent queen (Beyonce Knowles) during her final hours, and engaged in a life-or-death battle between their “Leaf Men” army of archers, and the evil Boggans lead by a brilliantly nefarious Mandrake (Oscar-winner Christopher Waltz) and his minions, who wear rat carcasses as robes and seek to rot the planet and destroy all living things.
It becomes MK’s job, along with the Leaf Man General (Colin Farrell) and his barely willing protege Josh Hutcherson (ahh, Peeta!) to help save the day. And because we learn through the story that all living thing are connected, and that all things happen for a reason, you can imagine how her adventure and inevitable happy ending will eventually bring the closure we’re hoping for in her relationship with her father.
The animation itself is terrific, and the 3-D is quite fun (Giant flying hummingbirds, 2-o-clock!), though I’d imagine even if you wait for the video and skip the overpriced 3-D tickets your kids will still enjoy it. The bad guys aren’t any more scary than say, Finding Nemo‘s sharks, and even very small kids in the audience seemed to be just fine with the action and the fight scenes.
Epic is fairly dialogue-intensive so it helped my 6-year-old for me to paraphrase some of the action as it was happening, but my almost-third grader loved it all on her own, and was even able to pick up the more subtle themes, like the commitment of the scientist who has given up everything in his life for a greater good.
In fact, I appreciate that the writers respect the young audience enough not to have to spell out “Trees=Good, Killing Trees = Bad” even more than they do.
There is one epic, toe-tapping musical number (unneccessary, but increasingly an animated requisite these days) courtesy of Steven Tyler who really impresses as a groovy, Lewis Carrol-inspired caterpillar named Nim Galuu. And kids will love the comic relief from two slugs and Leafmen-wannabees voiced wonderfully by Chis O’Dowd–I immediately recognized the distinctive dry brogue from Bridesmaids and This is Forty–and Aziz Ansari as the stereotypical funny, wisecracking fat guy.
(My kid picked up on that too, which led to an excellent discussion about why we think that movies always make the funny character overweight.)
I think even younger children will be fine with Epic, though be aware there is a minor puppy love story between MK and Hutcherson’s young Leaf Man if that matters to you; and there’s some low-level name-calling (stupid, idiot) from the slugs. And while I did admit to squirming just a bit about one loan-shark/pimp-like character with a Latino accent voiced by rapper Pitbull, it’s nice to see–and hear–a visibly multi-cultural cast.
Epic is the movie that your kids will like far more than any critics do (me included), and I think parents will be on their team. It’s a good, fun two hours, and gives you the opportunity to talk about really important themes about relationships, risk-taking, convictions, and of course, taking care of the earth.
Hard to have anything negative to say about that. -Liz
See Epic in theaters now and visit IMDb for trailers and more.
Also, check out the original William Joyce books that the film is losely based on. I have yet to read The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, but The Man in the Moon was named a Cool Mom Picks favorite of 2011.