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Epic – Movie Review

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Epic – Movie Review

Rating: A (Fantastic)

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The Connecticut-based animation studio Blue Sky has carved a solid niche for themselves with their talking animal slapstick comedies. Aside from a couple of unnecessary prehistoric sequels, they have proven to be a talented bunch with a good sense of humour and strong character designs. The title for Epic sounds like they are pompously announcing a film on a much larger scale. Director Chris Wedge and famed illustrator William Joyce have definitely lived up to it, though, by creating an incredibly imaginative and wondrous world, which the marketing is doing a disservice to. For a film whose trailer makes it look like a retread of the overly preachy environmental film Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, only the basic concept of the lead getting shrunk is rehashed. Unlike that early 90s mess, Epic is a unique and captivating adventure.

 Wedge and Joyce have created an amazing mythology with Epic, delving into a fascinating history of what happens underneath our feet. A large reason for the screenplay’s success is how it peels away the different magical elements of the Leaf Men’s world. From a unique royal system to the archiving of this world’s past, so much of the mythology dazzles. William Joyce’s big rule in adapting his books is that they don’t stick so rigidly to his text and the team of screenwriters have certainly taken advantage of that freedom in how they expand this world and populate it with such fascinating characters and flora. The production design is absolutely stunning and the lighting and cinematography also deserve recognition for how the camera swoops through the trees as the Leaf Men ride on bird-back. The animators do a magnificent job of showing every little detail and around every corner is a new and beautiful sight to behold.

 A special consideration should be given to the animation of the main character, Mary Katherine (whose name is a touching tribute to Joyce’s late daughter). Computer animation seems to be continually evolving and with MK, the Blue Sky team do an incredible and almost-realistic depiction of how a teenager looks and moves. Her simple facial expressions and way of walking is so close to an actual human being, one wonders if the animators cheated and used motion-capture technology for her movements. The incredible animation continues with the action sequences, which are thrilling and actually succeed in even developing the characters in certain ways. That attention to making sure the action is part of the characters and not simply overwhelming them is a key to how well-written the screenplay is. Combine that with the stunning scenery and there are points where Epic almost looks like a deleted screenshot from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. The film is that thrilling and fantastical.

The ensemble is a fun set of characters, as led by Mary Katherine, a likeable teenager going through a turmoil the filmmakers deserve plenty of credit for tackling. Her relationship with her obsessive father is nicely handled, too, as it is evident that despite their polar opposite personalities, they are both going through similar issues. The other main hero Nod is also written in a strong way, with Josh Hutcherson bringing the right amount of likeability, spunk and depth to the role. Considering Blue Sky’s talents lead in creating comedic characters, a couple of them appear in the form of a slug-and-snail duo and instead of being a distraction to the grand adventure on screen, they provide plenty of funny moments and even prove to be pivotal to the story. Mub and Grub are consistently hilarious and it is evident how much fun the storyboard artists and animators had with them. While Chris O’Dowd brings his usual Irish humour to Grub the Snail, Aziz Ansari nicely adapts his jive-talking ladies man routine to Mub the Slug. The animators especially use their little eyes to wonderful effect. One surprising voice actor who brings a lot to the table is musician Steven Tyler. Like the rest of the voices, he is an example of stunt casting used to place another big name on the poster, but he does a great job of voicing a showman caterpillar. He is able to be humourous in his delivery, but also showcase plot points without resorting to tired exposition.

Epic could easily divulge into a clichéd and Avatar-like adventure and instead, the screenwriters are careful in making this a unique story that takes more chances than one would expect. The film tackles death without toning things down for that PG rating and it certainly proves effective in raising the gravity of the Leaf Men’s situation as well as showing both Mary Katherine and Nod’s pain. It does not even become an environmental tale as one would think from a story about protectors of the forest. While the villains have the ability to rot trees, this is more shown as a way of nature rather than an excuse to throw an obvious pro-green message at the audience. The villainous Boggans’ plan is so much bigger than simply ruining some trees and fits in with the massive scope and urgency of the main focus. Wedge always keeps a ticking clock running and even when it appears safe, we know something is lurking underneath that will disrupt it.

In the spectrum of major animation studios, Blue Sky Studios is a bit of an underdog as their films have not quite reached the critical acclaim of their Disney and DreamWorks compatriots. However, Epic more than showcases they have the ability to create wonderfully imaginative stories that are both filled with enjoyable characters and a fun sense of adventure and awe. Combing the keen visual inventiveness of William Joyce and the filmmaking prowess of Chris Wedge has created an animated feature deserving of its promising title and an absolute delight to behold on the big screen.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

THE SCENE


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