Making the Grades
For a movie with a hyperbolic title like Epic and a tagline that reads “discover a world beyond your imagination”, this animated production is disappointingly average and unimaginative. In many ways if feels like Avatar for six-year-olds, but without the happy ending or overt environmental message.
The heroes in the story are leaf men, tiny soldiers who patrol the forest while riding on the backs of birds. They protect Queen Tara (voice by Beyonce Knowles), the ruler and preserver of the woodlands. Mandrake (voice by Christoph Waltz), their enemy who dresses in rat pelts and badly needs dental work, leads an army of gruesome characters made up of undesirable forest creatures like mice, bats and pesky mosquitoes.
As with all stereotypical villains who want to take over the world, he plans to destroy it first. To do so MAndrake must capture a magical bud that will determine the next ruler when it blooms. But just as he is about to snatch the unopened blossom from the hands of the dying queen, she tosses it to Mary Katherine (voice by Amanda Seyfried), a huge human teen who suddenly shrinks to the size of the other miniscule forest inhabitants.
Based on the book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce, the script pits life and growth against death and decay, both natural parts of the ecological process. However in an USA Today article, Director Chris Wedge is quoted as saying, “while Bill wrote a wonderful book, it is a quaint story. We wanted to make a gigantic action-adventure movie.”
That may have been the first mistake.
The focus on epic battles involving arrows, swordplay and midair dogfights as well as scores of characters, allows little time for character or script development. And what minutes there are for the plotline are sliced and diced into multiple narratives including a troubled daddy/daughter relationship between Mary Katherine and her absent-minded father (voice by Jason Sudeikis), a headstrong young soldier (voice by Josh Hutcherson) who snubs the advice of his wiser mentor (voice by Colin Farrell) and a typical comic relief duo (voices by Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari).
It isn’t always easy to pinpoint what makes a script flounder. By all accounts this movie should have been epic. (Other movies based on books by Joyce include Meet the Robinsons and Rise of the Guardians.) But there’s a sense of disappointment when these credits roll. And beautiful visuals aren’t enough to save the ubiquitous elements of a redheaded female protagonist and a youth-is-better-than-experience attitude from quickly tiring like the pervasive T-shirt slogan “Been There, Done That”. It’s hard to make an emotional connection with characters we’ve already seen and even harder to engage in a story that seems predictably plotted out.
While young and less jaded viewers (who haven’t seen this script multiple times) may buy into the adventure, parents should note that moments of peril, hand-to-hand combat and the death of a prominent character may be too intense for young children. And though there’s an absence of other content concerns, there’s also a scarcity of charm in this animated adventure. Considering the price of movie tickets, maybe the filmmakers should have stuck with quaint over epic.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Epic.
Characters in this movie are concerned with maintaining a balance in environment. However both growth and decay are part of that process. What role do rotting plants, decaying animal life and the cyclical nature of the seasons play in reinvigorating the forest? How can the depiction of mice, bats an mosquitoes as evil propagate the negative feelings many people have about these creatures?
When Mary Katherine meets her estranged father she is unhappy because she wants a normal dad. How would you define a normal father? How might a teenager’s definition of normal differ from that of an adult? What does she learn to appreciate about her father? What has he sacrificed in the pursuit of his passion for finding the little people? Are the sacrifices he made worth it?
What unseen life forms surround us everyday, whether or not we are in the forest? What is their role?