What it may lack in unpredictability, the new animated work from Blue Sky Studios more than makes up for in pure visual splendor in the perhaps-overstating-the-case titled Epic. Although they idea of little people living among us may have been covered in THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY, EPIC is in fact a completely different animal, partly because it features completely different animals and several races of small humans that are fighting for the future and the soul of the forest near the home of a teenage girl named Mary Katherine (or M.K., voiced by Amanda Seyfried) and her scientist father (Jason Sudeikis), who just happens to believe in these tiny people of the woods.
Although this is a film set in nature, this is very much an action-adventure film that makes phenomenal use of 3-D for showing how these little folks see the larger world around them. The good-guy soldiers (led by Colin Farrell's Ronin) fly on the backs of hummingbirds; while the villains (following the particularly nasty Mandrake, voiced by Christoph Waltz) ride bats and wear mouse skulls as helmets. The attention to detail in the costuming, weaponry and other ways the small people use things around them as clothes and fighting implements is great.
Every so often in the forest, the current queen (in this case, one voiced by Beyonce Knowles) hands over her crown to a young successor. If she doesn't do this in a certain time period, the soul of the forest may go bad—something Mandrake is counting on as he goes hunting for a particular bulb holding the queen's essence. Somehow MK is shrunk down and is given the task of delivering the bulb to a particular place and specific time, so the essence may go into the rightful heir. And that's pretty much it. Obviously, the journey is long and rough as Mandrake and his group of nasties attack at every chance they get.
There's an unbelievable cast of great voice actors on tap, most especially a slug and a snail (Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd) that are a great comedy pairing. Other talents includes Josh Hutcherson as another soldier who has his eyes on MK, Steven Tyler and even Pitbull, who might be speaking English but I don't think so. ICE AGE and ROBOTS director Chris Wedge has shown a talent for appealing to youngsters with his previous works, but EPIC is something I think older kids and many adults will find wholly satisfying.
Above all else, the film is gorgeous. I could stare at any frame of this movie for quite some time and still not see all of the nuances in the rendering, and the 3-D really enhances that. There's a bit of dopey magic in the film, but it's kept to a minimum to make room for some truly massive action sequences. There was something about a small soldier wearing a mouse skull on the back of a bat that made me skin crawl; call me crazy. But I loved it anyway. The sequences in the woods are so good, in fact, that when MK heads back home to contact her father, I was a little less engaged, although I did like the way they represented the slow-moving large humans from the perspective of a tiny person.
EPIC has a story that keeps on moving and rarely lets up long enough to ever get boring. There's a sweet little love story tucked away here that never gets in the way of the action, and aside from a few questionable voice actors, I really dug the movie. And despite its setting, I wouldn't consider Epic a film pushing any kind of environmental agenda. Maybe there is one, but director Wedge and his five (!) screenwriters left the heavy handedness on the floor. The resulting film is purely about entertainment.