Beautiful and touching, but hardly ‘Epic’

We’ve seen them before. They lived under the floorboard and called themselves the “borrowers” in Disney and Studio Ghibli’s film, “The Secret World of Arrietty.” They woke up with armor-like shells in Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” Or perhaps their insect-like qualities aren’t explained — like in the case of PBS’s animated television series “George Shrinks,” about a 10-year-0ld boy who’s three inches tall.

The concept of little people isn’t new — although adventures may seem grander when you’re smaller. Stature isn’t what makes Chris Wedge’s animated 3D film “Epic” epic, if it even is epic, extending beyond ordinary size or scope.

“Epic,” loosely based on William Joyce’s picture book, “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs,” follows M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), a 17-year-old girl sent to live with her estranged father after her mother dies. As the product of divorce, M.K. contemplates what to say to her father, Bomba (Jason Sudekis), a frazzled scientist obsessed with finding little people. This obsession cost him his career and marriage, and is the reason he’s a hermit, vigilantly tracking tiny people in the woods with his network of cameras.

The cameras are trying to catch what we see with 3D clarity: the breathtakingly beautiful, green and luscious world of the “leaf men,” tiny soldiers assigned to guard their Queen (Beyonce), the majestic Mother Nature by the name of Tara. Dandelions rise, revealing tiny faces beneath their puffs. Hummingbirds soar, carrying the leaf men, including Ronin (Colin Farrell), Queen Tara’s top guard, and Nob (Josh Hutcherson), Ronin’s teenaged charge.

As our saga begins, the Queen has just selected her heir from tiny lily pad buds when the evil Boggan leader, Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) — the Scar of this Pride Rock — kills the Queen. Stumbling upon the fallen Queen in the woods behind her father’s house and magically shrunken to the size of insects, M.K. is witness to the Queen’s dying wish: to protect the bud until it blooms by moonlight. It is only then that she will return to her normal size.

Although produced by Twentieth Century Fox Animation, “Epic” seems like an amalgamation between Disney, Studio Ghibli and Pixar, carrying just as much heart. The character Nob looks nearly identical to Flynn Ryder, one of Disney’s protagonists in “Tangled.” The amount of green in this movie can rival Studio Ghibli films, including “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” and “Ponyo.” The animation has the feeling of Pixar, known for their realistic-looking figures, from Merida in “Brave” to Flik in “A Bug’s Life.”

The visuals are stunning, but the story isn’t as epic as the title may suggest. Crafted by a team of five writers (James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember), the screenplay contains ordinary scenes, familiar to any Disney consumer. M.K. becomes Alice — shrinking and falling into a surreal “wonderland” — only her hookah-smoking caterpillar is replaced by a singing one named Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler), who like the wizard Oz, proves to be rather useless under his curtain. (The white rabbit, Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, Wicked Witch, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow are absent from this retelling of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum’s story.)

Meanwhile, Nob and his surrogate dad, Ronin, experience a “Lion King” moment — the one where Mufasa is hanging off a cliff, before falling to his death trampled by wildebeests. Instead of wildebeests and lions, in one scene, Ronin battles an endless Boggan army as Nod watches helplessly from a cliff above.

“Epic’s” version of Timon and Pumba are a comedic slug-and-snail duo named Mub (“Park and Recreation’s” Aziz Anisari)  and Grub (Chris O’Dowd). As one may imagine, Mub and Grub, who would be sustenance for the larger Timon and Pumba, don’t have conversations about eating crunchy and slimy bugs, although they would both agree that the slimy kind is better (but not to be eaten).

The scenes from “Epic” are familiar, but combining a bunch of scenes from known movies doesn’t make an “Epic Movie” epic or a “Scary Movie” scary. And satire doesn’t seem to be what Wedge’s family-friendly film is after.

“Epic” may be cute and touching, but it lacks the 10-year odysseys, wars and bloodshed that would make this story epic.

“Epic” was directed by Chris Wedge and written by James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. The story is based off of William Joyce’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.” 

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