There’s a worrisome failure of imagination at work in the title of this movie. It’s actually hard to imagine a more generic title. But at least it’s succinct. It rolls off the tongue much better than Movie That Feels Not So Much Inspired As Engineered According to Conventional Animated Kids’ Genre Requirements. Children may enjoy it, but even they will be able to see all the boxes it systematically ticks. Let’s run through them.
Based on a book/toy/previously existing media property? Check.
Although the relative obscurity of the book it is based on – William Joyce’s The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs – hardly screams “brand awareness” or “toy tie-in synergy.” (This isn’t Transformers, people).
Bloated cast of celebrity voices? Check.
Amanda Seyfried as a M.K., a young girl who goes to live with her father and is magically shrunken and caught up in a battle with the Leaf Men, who are dressed in green (obviously), live in the forest and fly around on hummingbirds; Beyoncé Knowles as the queen of the forest people; Christoph Waltz as the villainous leader of the forces of forest decay out to destroy all that lovely green stuff; Steven Tyler as a fumbling caterpillar; Colin Farrell as Ronin, a hardened warrior and leader of the Leaf Men who is a big sweetheart underneath it all; Josh Hutcherson, of Hunger Games fame (Team Peeta!) as Nod, who’s like the maverick of the Leaf Men with that mix of handsomeness, flying ability and insubordination – and the list goes on: Jason Sudeikis, Judah Friedlander, and then some.
Two supporting characters to provide Pumbaa and Timon-esque comic relief? Check.
Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd play a slug and a snail who help M.K. restore order in the forest while sometimes flirting with her or trying to play tough guy. But the best laugh comes from a fruit fly. Let’s just say those creatures have comically short lifespans.
Vaguely political message not so sharpened as to radicalize your children? Check.
The forest is a thing of beauty and wonder, and worthy of the fight to preserve it. The message is slightly reminiscent of Avatar, and the lustrous colours are so beautifully rendered you might just leave the theatre and go hug a tree.
Great visuals and 3-D? Check.
Director Chris Wedge, who also directed Ice Age and Robots, certainly knows how to create fantastic visuals and great action sequences. Kids will surely love scenes of tiny people racing through the forest shooting arrows at bad guys, who are whipping around on bats.
Daddy issues that our protagonist(s) must confront? Check.
They are the mother of all narrative devices here. M.K. doesn’t believe her father’s crazy theory about little people living in the forest but will need him to help save the day, and Ronin is always trying to get Nod to be a better Leaf Man because of a promise he made to his dad before he died. Even the villain is out to avenge his son. For an adventure movie that features a female protagonist, Epic is loaded with fathers and messages about their importance.
Catchy songs? Negative.
Usually you can count on Danny Elfman to provide music that is fun, loopy and adds enough fizz to at least momentarily elevate the material, but not here. Like every other aspect of the movie, it is far from an epic fail. But it is also just as far from being actually epic.
Kids love it even though it’s paint-by-numbers storytelling?