Epic (2013) Blu-ray Review

By Chris Rebholz   X Formly Known as Twitter
5 Min Read
The title of Blue Sky Studios' latest animated film seems to be both ironic and sincere, the former because Epic is concerned with an incredibly small-scale view—it stars little woodland creatures and a race of tiny, fairy-like humans—and the latter because the film tries to mount a large-scale action-adventure that pits the forces of leafy-green goodness against the minions of rot and decay. What the film isn',t is epic in the sense where the word is used interchangeably with "awesome," another word which has lost its original punch and scope. As an animated CGI family feature, Epic is decidedly mid-sized, not nearly as grand or inspiring as the Pixar productions and animated classics it imitates. There's a lot of A Bug's Life here, more than a little FernGully, and even some Secret of NIMH, which is to say that Epic is hardly original in its eco- minded exploration of the world beneath our feet. Drama-wise, it plays it safe too, ticking all the expected narrative boxes and giving the impression of a story told by formula rather than from the heart. However there's no doubt that children—the intended audience—will like it. It's colorful and well-paced, there are funny sidekick characters, and it establishes a world that's fertile for imaginative post-viewing play. Epic might not go down as one of the all-time animated greats, but it's a decent summer diversion for kids young enough to enjoy it.

Amanda Seyfried voices the teenaged redhead Mary Katherine—also known as "M.K."—who, after the death of her mother, travels to the country to live with her estranged dad, Professor Bomba (Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis), an absentminded biologist whose weird theoretical obsessions led both his wife and the scientific community to ostracize him. See, Bomba "has a delusional belief in an advanced society of tiny people living in the woods," and he spends his days setting up cameras and traipsing through the forest wearing steampunk-ish microscope goggles, hoping to catch a glimpse of these hypothesized creatures.

Of course, he's right. They're real—we wouldn't have a movie otherwise—and not only that, but they're also responsible for maintaining the balance of life and death in the forest. And this balance is highly unstable at the moment. The two-inch-high Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), who has the magical power to create new greenery with a wave of her hand, is in the process of selecting her heir from a group of flower pods growing on lily pads. The evil oogedy-boogedy Boggans, though, led by their imp king Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), want a forest world overrun with rot and vermin, and conspire to steal the chosen pod, shooting Tara off the hummingbird piloted by her bodyguard Ronin (Collin Farrell), commander of the Leafmen army. While running away from her dad's home, M.K. happens to witness Tara falling to the ground, still clutching the pod, and before she knows it, the queen has shrunk her down to their size and—with her dying breath—commanded her to deliver the pod to the glowworm Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler), a forest historian/musical showman who will apparently know what to do with it.

M.K. is naturally freaked out at first at having been miniaturized, but since she believes Galuu is the only one who can restore her to her proper height, she's pretty much forced to go along on the quest. She's helped in her journey by the stoic Ronin, the goofy pod guardians Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O'Dowd)—a smooth-talking slug and a chubby snail, respectively—and an arrogant, independent young Leafman named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who will inevitably become M.K.'s love interest. He's also the subject of the film's main subplot, which has him leaving the Leafmen and striking out on his own for a short-lived career as a "bird-racer." In due time, he learns the valuable life-lesson that is the Leafmen's motto: "Many leaves, one tree. We're all individuals, but we're still connected."

Based loosely on a children's book by William Joyce, the film was apparently written by committee, with—including Joyce—five screenwriters credited. The plot is definitely a by-the-numbers affair, and offers few surprises, but it hums along nicely, never flagging in its kid-friendly energy. There are frantic battle scenes between the Boggans and the Leafmen, a semi-scary encounter with a rat, and even a musical number—courtesy of Steven Tyler—although this last addition is arguably unneeded and out of place. On the whole, the voice acting is strong, with Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz making a fine villain and Aziz Ansari stealing the show whenever his suave-but-inept slug is on screen. This is all routine animated movie stuff—celebrity voices, colorful action, PG-rated comedy—but Epic does differentiate itself somewhat in the fun way that it illustrates the differences in physics and physical ability between the human-sized "stompers" like Professor Bomba, who appear to move in slow motion from the perspective of the tiny creatures on the ground, and the fleet-footed Leafmen, who can run and jump and lift with an nimble agility that's only possible on their scale. They've basically got the strength of ants and the speed of flies, and no doubt every four-to-ten-year-old will think that's pretty cool.

Coming from Blue Sky Studios—the same production team behind the Ice Age series—it should come as no surprise that Epic looks fantastic on Blu-ray, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation that's bold, colorful, and highly dimensional even in its 2D iteration. None of the usual picture quality bugaboos apply from a normal viewing distance and the image holds up to the closest pixel-peeping inspection too. The film's stylized look doesn't go for photorealism, but there's a lot of great detail and texture in the character designs and the surrounding forest world.

The film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is just as impressive, overabundant with energetic sound design. There's the near-constant backdrop of forest ambience, to start, and in front of this are lively cross-channel movements that put the entire sound field to good use. Hummingbirds hovering and darting to and fro, Professor Bomba's three-legged dog running spastic loops around us, arrrows zipping, bats swarming en masse, the aching crack of a falling tree and the resultant spray of dirt and leaves as it crashes down, there's rarely a dull moment.

And when it comes to special features, expect the whole package:

  • Birds, Bugs, and Slugs: Forest Explorer: Here we go outside to learn a little about the real-life animals and insects that inspired the film's characters.
  • Rot Rocks: A featurette about the benefits of rot and decay in the forest.
  • Bugs of Camouflage: "Ken the Bug Guy" gives us a look at how certain insects use camouflage to blend in to their environments.
  • The Epic Life at 2 Inches: A short piece about how life would be different for you—mentally and physically—if you were shrunk to two inches high.
  • Mysteries of Moonhaven Revealed: A seven-part making-of documentary that covers the creation of the world, the characters, and more, featuring interviews with the director, producers, and animators.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Sneak Peek

Epic isn't quite as epic as its title would suggest, and it offers little outside the animated CGI family feature norm—recognizable celebrity voice actors, simple themes, cute sidekicks—but, if nothing else, it at least has the energy and excitement needed to keep kids occupied with the story. (And maybe keep them occupied for a few hours later, re-enacting their favorite scenes.) Adults, meanwhile, will probably feel a lingering sense of déjà vu noticing how much of this movie has been recycled from other, better family films. High definition eye-candy fiends and home theater junkies may get a kick from the grade-A video/audio presentation, though, which might tip Epic into the "purchase" category for some.

Directed By:
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 102 minutes
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox

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For more information about Epic visit the FlickDirect Movie Database. This release has been provided to FlickDirect for review purposes. For more reviews by Chris Rebholz please click here.

Epic images are courtesy of 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

FlickDirect, Chris  Rebholz

When Chris was but a wee lad growing up in the slums of suburban New Jersey, he happened to rent a little movie called Tron. Then his head exploded. It was at the moment that he realized that he loved movies, and since then Chris has made it a habit of renting movies, going to the movies, discussing his favorite movies, and anything else in between when it comes to that genre.


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