With the voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Beyoncé Knowles, Steven Tyler. Written by Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember, James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere. Directed by Chris Wedge. Rated PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language. 102 minutes.
EPIC is the first of many animated offerings for youngsters to be offered this season. Though it takes a while to get going, it does turn into a charming film with several positive messages for kids, from female empowerment to protecting the environment to parents and children needing to listen to each other. Based on a novel by William Joyce, it credits him and four other writers for the script, suggesting that various elements of the story may have had different authors.
Mary Katharine (voice of Amanda Seyfried) arrives at the home of her father (Jason Sudeikis) in rural Connecticut. Her mother is dead and father and daughter are a bit estranged. See, he believes the forest is filled with “little people” and has devoted his life to trying to find proof. When he leaves her in mid-conversation because one of his alarms has gone off, she decides to leave.
Of course it turns out he is right, and the forest people are anticipating an important event: Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) is about to select her successor. The evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), who prefers death and decay, wants to prevent this from happening so that he and his forces can destroy the forest. The story really gets underway after a battle between the two sides leaves Mary Katherine – who prefers to be called M.K. – reduced to the size of the “Leaf Men” who have been defending the queen.
Other characters get introduced, from a comic duo of a slug and a snail to a wise old sage named Nim Galuu who turns out to be voiced by, of all people, rocker Steve Tyler. This all leads to a series of climactic battles where all the good guys get to shine, including M. K.’s father. Naturally there’s also a love interest for M.K. in Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who has been under the protection of the head of the Leaf Men, Ronin (Colin Farrell), but is a rebel. When the chips are down, though, you know he’ll come through.
Ecologically, the film isn’t on the soundest ground. Rot and decay is part of nature’s cycle. Mandrake isn’t a polluter. He just doesn’t like flowers and trees. So Ronin and the Leaf Men fly around on cute hummingbirds and Mandrake and his army fly around with crows and bats. Perhaps in the next film everyone can get together to oppose a developer who wants to pave over the entire forest and build an oil refinery or a nuclear weapons facility there.
In short, “Epic” isn’t quite epic, but it is something that is family-friendly which will enchant children young enough that they won’t have seen it all before as well as adults willing to give themselves over to its charms.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.