Mania Review: Epic -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: B

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  • Starring the Voices of: Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Beyonce Knowles, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd
  • Written by: James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember
  • Directed by: Chris Wedge
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 102 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Epic

Good movie. Bad ads...

By Rob Vaux     May 24, 2013

 Want to see what a bad promotional campaign can do to a good movie? Epic, a surprisingly enjoyable fantasy tale from the gang that made Ice Age, has effectively been hung out to dry by Fox. Its commercials and posters inform no one of what to expect: just the usual grab-bag of easily marketable characters who look good on Burger King cups. Considering the rapidly diminishing quality of the Ice Age franchise, we shouldn’t be looking for a lot here. That makes Epic’s overall quality that much more unexpected.  It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but its attention to detail produces a reliably entertaining family adventure.

Part of its secret lies in playing things straight, relying on a few pratfalls and clever zingers for humor, but largely keeping things straightforward. We’ve seen its tale of good vs. evil before, but it invests its particular permutations with some real wonder, as well as a striking visual style that helps it establish itself. The short version? Fairies exist in the woods of upstate New York. The heroic Leafmen defend the kingdom of Queen Tara (voiced by Beyonce Knowles), representing growth, against the evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), who represents decay. Trouble comes when an important ceremony is interrupted, giving Mandrake a chance to take over. A wild card gets thrown into the mix when one of us big folk – a mourning teenager named M-K (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) –  gets shrunk down via magic, joining the Leafmen in their battle.

It sounds like stock material and in most ways it is. Director Chris Wedge overcomes it first by adopting a surprisingly mature tone for his adventure. Though definitely family friendly, this doesn’t feel like it’s catered to eight-year-old sensibilities. It has the self-respect to treat its adventure as a serious endeavor, and to engage us fully instead of treating it as a joke. The Ice Age films lost that balance a long time ago, Wedge regains it here by inserting more subtle wit, then just letting the story do its thing.

Naturally, the fickle hand of studio interference appears now and again… notably in a snail and a slug (voiced by Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari) who exist solely for comic relief. The actors kind of make it work, however, leaving Seyfried and her new Leafmen friends to carry the heavy dramatic load. There’s plenty of not-so-subtle messages about finding yourself, respecting your elders, looking at the world with different eyes, etc. But Epic knows how to flourish them properly, making them a part of the storyline instead of a tacked-on afterthought.  Credit Wedge for treating the narrative development at least as seriously as he treats the world design.

Speaking of which, that’s where the film scores its biggest hits. The contrast between humanity’s big world and the Leafmen’s small one makes a feast for the development team, who pay equal attention to both halves of the equation. Many fairies in this world exist as living flowers, allowing them to blend into their surroundings perfectly. Wedge makes us believe that such a world could exist right in front of us without our knowledge, while rendering the elements of the human world both grotesque and strangely amusing.  He’s also wise enough to stay away from politics, presenting his tale as a struggle between natural forces rather than another environmental message (which isn’t bad in and of itself, but has been done a tad to death).

The most frustrating thing about Epic is that its by-the-numbers qualities hide its good ones from the casual observer. The anemic ad campaign may doom it at the box office, a fate it doesn’t deserve. While Epic can’t reinvent the wheel, its surprisingly solid construction makes it a reliable early entry in the summer derby. Families in need of some respite can enjoy it together, without the harsher edges supplied by most teen-oriented popcorn flicks. Give it a chance if you’re of a mind. Like its protagonists, it has a knack for sneaking up on you.  


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MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 5/24/2013 12:37:05 AM

 Hopefully this is playing at the mall theater. This is the one I want to see. Wish I had my homegirl and her kiddos with me though. Going to be hard seeing a toon flick without them.

RaithManan 5/24/2013 11:11:46 AM

Typically cartoon features tend to more often than not give relief to fledging actors (yes Colin Farrell, I'm mostly referring to you) who are in need of a dire hit.  But it is Farell we are talking about, who has been the kiss of death since the dismal Alexander whenever he is in the top billing position.  Horrible Bosses don't count because he was a minor co-star, but a hilariously and almost unrecognizable one at that.

While FOX does deserve a beating on the head for its lack of advertising of it, but again.... given its Colin Farrell, I wouldn't be surprised if it was intentional so people wouldn't notice.  The minute they see Colin's name as the star, the image of a black cat scampering under a ladder comes to people's mind.

If Colin can't even turn his luck around as a cartoon act, he will seriously need to go into repackage career mode if he wants to get back into the good graces of studios. 

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 5/24/2013 2:33:37 PM

 Colin's latest indie movies have been pretty damn good though.

Wiseguy 5/24/2013 2:48:13 PM

Will see this some time. It just looks too beautiful to pass up

blankczech 5/25/2013 1:26:40 PM

 MrJawbreakingEquilibrium is correct Colin Farrell is actually quite a good actor.   Don't judge him by his (Sci-Fi, and Horror) genre work (Though I liked him in Fright Night).  Movies like the remake of Total Recall were garbage top to bottom (bad writing, bad direction, etc.)...  One could question why he keeps reading scripts and taking those parts...I imagine it's hard for an actor to pass up the big payday those type of movies offer.  He takes the big money for some dumb action flick that people flock to the theatres to see and then works at his craft in a low budget indie film that may never make it to the theatres (perhaps just the art houses). Check out Cassandra's Dream, A Home at the end of the World, or Intermission to see what I'm talking about.  

blankczech 5/25/2013 1:39:54 PM

 Got off the track...I'll save this for my 1080p LED Flat screen and marvel at the beauty of it.

Z4RQUON 5/26/2013 6:24:01 AM

 Wow! A whole movie dedicated to incorrectly using the word "epic"!

iceknight52 5/26/2013 8:54:14 AM

Saw yesterday with the wife and kiddos and think that a B rating sounds about right. Kept me entertained but probably would not go out of my way to see it again. Yet my kids and apparently the rest the kids in the theater loved it.

ElBaz13 5/27/2013 5:54:10 AM

Took the kids to see it over the weekend and I was quite surprised.

I wasn't planning to see this one this summer in an already crowded must see summer slate but we decided at the last minute due to crappy weather.

I found the beginning was ho-hum and was actually bored but about 1/2 hour in, it got better and better. It has a strong nice environment message.

It 's a nice mash up of the following movies: Arietty, Avatar and Star Wars.

Wiseguy 5/27/2013 8:21:22 AM

Yeah I caught it also. Pretty good, the art and landscapes were beautiful.

A solid family film

Still I always want to punch the rebel in the face. That guy that just doesn't want to follow orders and screws up but at the end they always let him come out better and forget how badly he screwed up.

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