Film review: ‘Epic’ fails to journey beyond tropes

Film review: ‘Epic’ fails to journey beyond tropes
MK (Amanda Seyfried) encounters a slug named Mub (Aziz Ansari), a self-described "ladies´ man." Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Studios

High-quality animation notwithstanding, the not-so epic “Epic” relies too heavily on clichés plucked from previous “save-nature-from-evil” movies and celebrity voices devoid of enthusiasm. 

Mary Katherine, a.k.a. M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), pays a visit to her father Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), who resides in a house on the outskirts of a forest. According to him, the forest is home to a group of tiny human-looking warriors who serve as its protectors. Unfortunately, Bomba is so obsessed with his research that he pays little attention to M.K., who then decides to leave.

Before she knows it, she stumbles upon a group of glowing leaves, which suddenly shrink her down to size. While in her tiny form, M.K. encounters the very warriors her father has studied, who call themselves the Leafmen. In order to return home, she must assist her newfound allies in a battle against the forces of destruction known as the Boggans and their leader Mandrake (Christoph Waltz).

As expected by anyone who has watched computer-animated films before, the quality of the animation remains unblemished. Director Chris Wedge (“Ice Age” and “Robots”) succeeds in immersing the audience in a lush forest containing all sorts of whimsical creatures — something the target audience will probably enjoy. But even the pristine visuals cannot disguise the short-lived legacy of “Epic,” namely because of its unoriginal setting and plot.

Is it too much to ask for a film containing a healthy amount of uniqueness that draws inspiration from other sources these days? Apparently, “Epic” doesn’t even try.

While the forest world of the Leafmen and Boggans is beautifully rendered, it lacks a voice of its own. You can easily detect the “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” and “Avatar” DNA in the character designs and action sequences, not to mention the “sweetness” that has been observed over and over to the point where it has become a cliché. And while “Epic” isn’t as strident in its environmental themes as its big screen ancestors, you don’t need a big brain to notice the similarities.

In addition, the narrative’s central conflict — M.K. helping the Leafmen fight the Boggans — it doesn’t contain a sense of urgency, thereby reducing whatever threats are posed by evil forces to mere child’s play.

Nobody in the voice cast of “Epic” seems remotely interested in making the characters their own; all you’ll hear the actors emit from their vocal cords is name power. Amanda Seyfried may have been the wrong person to voice M.K., primarily because she sounds as if she really doesn’t want to be here. Colin Farrell’s performance as the Leafmen warrior Ronin exudes a tired exasperation that doesn’t do him any favors. Josh Hutcherson lacks his usual charm and likeability; his brash rebel Nod is nothing more than a cardboard stereotype.

Christoph Waltz just might be the only actor who actually relished voicing his animated counterpart, though he alone cannot salvage this bore of a children’s film. Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd’s combined efforts to make the audience laugh aren’t as funny as they think they are; considering they play a slug and a snail, respectively, their obliviousness isn’t surprising. Jason Sudeikis gets so lost in Professor Bomba’s absent-mindedness that you’d think he has no clue what he’s talking about.

Rounding out the cast are three notable music artists — all of whose appearances are as fleeting as the decaying forest surrounding them. Pitbull’s portrayal of the shady Bufo is about as memorable as a frog that got gigged. Aerosmith lead vocalist Steven Tyler does an OK job of filling out caterpillar Nim Galuu’s friendly charisma. As for Beyoncé Knowles, her silky singer’s voice fits Queen Tara’s motherly personality quite well, even though she isn’t seen much.

Had director Wedge selected a cast that expressed genuine interest in wanting to participate in this project, the results might have been vastly different.

I strongly urge moviegoers to not waste their time and money on an admission ticket for “Epic,” because doing so will result in making a mistake that is guaranteed to leave you with a reaction that is anything but epic upon leaving the theater.

MPAA rating: PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language.
Running time: 1 hour and 42 minutes
Playing: General release

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