Epic Chris Wedge

Epic Chris Wedge
Before Epic dives into its story, which is a serviceable, if redundant, mishmash of all things familiar within the lexicon of fantastical family films, a gorgeous and compelling scene unfolds in the forest, detailing the geography and aesthetic of the world. Background and foreground share equal detail while crows and hummingbirds dart in and out of the natural green landscape, manoeuvring around trees and flying out of the screen in 3D, each carrying a good or evil character.

The visual detail is as impeccable as the action is enthralling, leading us into the central story, which starts when one of the armoured "leaf men" falls from the sky and lands on the windshield of a taxi driver carrying surly, yet practical teenager M.K (Amanda Seyfried). Heading off to stay with her father, she's defined as speculative, disengaged from her dad's (Jason Sudeikis) scientific preoccupation with the supposed existence of the very mini-forest creatures we've just seen in action.

It's here where this not-quite-epic story shows its Achilles heel — clunky exposition and lethargic characterizations. Once the animation rollercoaster slows down, we're left with a standard-issue Alice in Wonderland meets Wizard of Oz story that becomes more Honey, I Shrunk the Kids when an imperilled forest queen (Beyoncé Knowles) shrinks M.K. down to her size. It's all in a bid to protect a plant bud destined to save the forest from the "rot," a cartoon metaphor for pollution, urban sprawl and, really, anything corporate or inorganic.

Amidst the fish-out-of-water shenanigans — initially, M.K. finds a squeaky mouse cute until realizing it perceives her as food — there's an abundance of solid family-friendly gags and kinetic action sequences. And when things are playful and ramped-up with energy, Epic soars, particularly in a latter slow-motion sequence when M.K. and her woodsy warriors (Colin Farrell and Josh Hutcherson) are trying to evade her father and his three-legged dog. It's just that the progression of plot is burdened by inorganic banter and overly familiar narrative contrivances that even children are all too well versed in.

Still, this modern day Fern Gully is a visual triumph, easily holding attention through sheer spectacle. And within this blandly progressive material is even a weirdly contrary Leaves of Grass message about patriotic duty, which, in the context of overly sanitized, ostensibly Communist children's fare, is quite alarming and amusingly subversive. (Fox)