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"EPIC"
(2013) (voices of Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Adventure: A teenager ends up shrunken down into a miniature world where she tries to help those who support life and growth vs. those who try to spread death and decay in the forest in which they live.
PLOT:
Following the death of her mother, Mary Katherine (voice of AMANDA SEYFRIED) - who now likes to be called M.K. -- sets off to live with her scientist father, Professor Bomba (voice of JASON SUDEIKIS). He's an eccentric sort whose obsession with finding a race of miniature people he believes live in the nearby woods led to the end of his marriage to M.K.s mother and a general estrangement from the teen.

That continues upon her arrival to the point that she decides to leave. But their 3-legged dog Ozzie escapes and she chases him into the woods, unaware of what's about to happen to her. Unbeknownst to M.K., her father was right as a tiny world does exist nearby where the balance between life & growth and death and decay seems likely to tip in the favor of the latter.

And that's because the ritual of Queen Tara (voice of BEYONCE KNOWLES) choosing the next guardian of the forest -- something that only happens every 100 years -- has been interrupted by Mandrake (voice of CHRISTOPH WALTZ), his equally nefarious son Dagda (voice of BLAKE ANDERSON), and the rest of their Boggan tribe who want their death and decay to rule. A group of soldiers known as the Leafmen -- led by Ronin (voice of COLIN FARRELL) -- try to protect the Queen and the special pod she's chosen that contains her successor, but Tara is mortally wounded during the battle.

With M.K. stumbling upon her end, Queen Tara's magic causes the teen to shrink down to a miniature size along with the request that she take the pod to Nim Galuu (voice of STEVEN TYLER), the caterpillar keeper of the scrolls. Shocked by what's occurred, she agrees to do that with the help of slug Mub (voice of AZIZ ANSARI) and snail Grub (voice of CHRIS O'DOWD) -- who are the caretakers of the pod -- all while Ronin isn't sure he can trust former Leafman Nod (voice of JOSH HUTCHERSON) who previously quit but has now returned to help him, M.K. and the rest.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Kids never seem to tire of stories about miniature people who lead normal -- if sometimes perilous, adventurous and/or heroic -- lives but are, for the most part, hidden from the everyday view of average people like you and me. I imagine much of that's because they're small themselves in a world filled with much bigger teens and adults, and thus feel a connection to such characters in both physicality and being tiny Rodney Dangerfields in terms of respect.

I have no idea who first populated a work of fiction with such characters, but they've been around for centuries in works such as "Gulliver's Travels," "Thumbelina," parts of "Alice in Wonderland," "The Borrowers" and "The Secret World of Arrietty." Now, one can add "Epic" to the mix. Based on author William Joyce's children's book "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs," it's the computer-animated tale of a teen who ends up magically shrunken down to a tiny size in the forest where she witnesses and becomes part of the tug of war between life and death in the forest.

Such work on both sides is the result of actions taken by both Queen Tara and the Leafmen who serve as protectors of both her and all life and growth in the woods, as well as a malevolent race of villainous beings known as the Boggans who want to spread death and decay throughout. It's obviously a spin on the old circle of life (no, Elton John doesn't reprise his signature "Lion King" song, although there is one brief musical number and some song overlays) even if the point is never made that death and decay ultimately end up feeding life and vice-versa.

Before that ends up sounding too heavy for kids (or even adults), I should point out there's the usual inclusion of comic relief characters in the form of a duo of terrestrial gastropod mollusks (doesn't that sound fun?) named Mub and Grub who offer the standard array of wisecracks and such. Some of their bits are funny as are moments where the small characters (whose size means their world unfolds faster than their bigger counterparts) make fun of the "giants" moving and talking in slow motion. And there are some decent emotionally touching moments regarding the teen girl and her estranged, researched-obsessed dad.

Beyond that, however, the rest of the flick is mediocre. Yes, the computer animation looks terrific and there are fun, imaginative touches scattered throughout. But the story -- penned by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember -- never really does anything particularly memorable with the "Avatar" meets "Ferngully" meets "The Borrowers" inspired plot. In short, the teen is estranged from her dad, gets shrunken down, helps the good guys defeat the bad ones who want to destroy the environment and, in doing so, gets emotionally reconnected with her pop so that everyone lives happily ever after (that is, except for the villains).

The latter are headlined by the vocal work of Christoph Waltz (the lead bad guy in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"). He's a heck of a charismatic performer when seen live and given the right kind of dialogue that works best with his accent and vocal delivery. But when he's only heard and the villainy of his dialogue is rote, the casting of him is otherwise wasted.

For those on the heroic side, Amanda Seyfried does the standard sort of teen animated heroine work we've heard in countless such flicks, something that also holds true regarding Josh Hutcherson as her male counterpart, the rebellious teen who doesn't follow orders but eventually comes around to help save the day. It's never explained why the lead warrior has Colin Farrell's Irish accent at half-intensity (thus making him sound different than his comrades), while Beyoncé Knowles is bland as the good Queen. Only Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd are given the chance to have fun with their vocalizations and they make the best of the aforementioned comic relief.

Director Chris Wedge ("Robots" and the original "Ice Age") keeps things moving at a brisk pace to avoid too many moments of lagging momentum, and the action scenes are decently choreographed but otherwise unremarkable. But all of that and much of the rest of the film feels like material we've seen before and it ultimately lacks the sort of storytelling magic to make the overall effort pop off the screen and thus be highly entertaining, not to mention memorable.

I imagine in a year or less I probably won't be able to recall much if anything about this film, no doubt helped by the generic title that doesn't really have any connection to the story or its characters (beyond the hope that young viewers will find the overall presentation as fitting that adjective). As it stands, "Epic" is okay, but it probably could and should have been so much more. It rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 18, 2013 / Posted May 24, 2013


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