The latest film from the animated wing of 20th Century Fox is Epic, following in the wings of similarly one word-titled animated films full of adventure, wonder and bravado. But just how well this film measures to the recent crop of similar ones in the genre remained to be seen for me until I finally experienced the slightly hyperbolic Epic on Blu-ray. So time to crack open the hood and take a look and what is underneath.
The film is written by James V. Hart (August Rush) and William Joyce (Rise of the Guardians), among others, and directed by Chris Wedge (Ice Age). Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried, Big Love) lives with her Dad much to her consternation, because Dad is obsessed with possible miniaturized tree people that are in a Good vs. Evil fight with a group that encourages decay in the forest. She eventually finds herself as part of the battle when the good side of the fence (named the Leafmen) bring her into the forest at the behest of the Queen (R&B diva Beyonce Knowles). The main Leafmen soldiers are Ronin (Colin Farrell, Seven Psychopaths) and Nod (Josh Hutcherson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), the latter of whom M.K. takes a liking to. They attempt to defeat the evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz, The Green Hornet), all the while with M.K. wanting to return home.
Without a doubt, what Epic does from casting to execution is tick off points from an apparently established template when it comes to animated family films. In lieu of the viewer, take the protagonist and drop them into unfamiliar grounds, and their belief structure will change, include an antagonist that could be described as mean yet ultimately harmless, and throw all of the names of the day into the mix to provide vocal talent. Sure, there's Farrell, Seyfried and Hutcherson, and Waltz was fresh off his second Best Supporting Oscar. And these casting choices, while nice, are a sample of how eccentric some of the cast is. Along with Knowles, add Pitbull and Steven Tyler to the list of musicians who appear as voiceover talent in Epic. And as voiceover actors, they are decent musicians. But hey, maybe a song in the film cannot be far away! All the more frustrating, established comic actors such as Jason Sudeikis, Chris O'Dowd and Aziz Ansari do appear in the ensemble, though most of their work is relegated to the sidelines. Even Judah Friedlander appears for a scene as a cab driver and goes away.
It is really hard to find something truly redeeming about Epic. It is not that the film is bad, but that there is very little to really crow about. Unlike other films that a ton of people have seen, the world that is created presents a connection to the viewer that reaches across various age groups and income levels. In Epic we get an environment with the Leafmen that has characters that are not very engaging, in an environment that does not feel special, fighting a battle that feels like it is won before the sides are completely sorted out.
With the release of Epic, I think that we may be hitting that cresting moment when it comes to animated children/family films, assuming we did not reach it before. This may be more symbolic in the Pixar releases of late, where those films hoe the same ground and feel recycled or without a lot of inspiration. Epic takes two ideas that have been used before (the backyard wilderness of Bugs and/or Antz along with the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! and a dusting of The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror"), and uses characters that the viewer has seen before in countless films, executing a story that hits its required beats in less than enthusiastic fashion. In a weird way the film is as green as the backdrop is, and not in a good way.
2.40:1 widescreen by Fox, and in high definition using the AVC codec. Like other digital video releases of exclusively CG created productions, there is little to complain about. Colors are vivid without saturation and image detail is abundant in the foreground and background. Darker scenes include black levels that are inky and provide a nice contrast to the other colors on screen, and you will feel like you will have watched a week of NBC programming during Earth Week with all the green in the film's palette. Stellar work, this. It should be noted that while there is a 3D version of the combo available, the 2D is the center of focus here.
The 7.1 DTS HD-MA surround track brings as much goodness to your earholes as it does your eye things. Dialogue is consistent and well-balanced, channel panning is evident as the hummingbirds soar through the sound stage, and directional effects during quieter outdoor moments place the viewer in the middle of the garden. And when M.K.'s Dad or the dog come into the picture when M.K. is miniaturized, the footsteps are massive with low-end goodness and the slowed down sounds of each provide a warm bath of bass from the subwoofer. All in all the film looks and sounds good, as one would expect.
'Over 45 minutes of special features' touts the back of the disc, and most of these are similar to things produced before for children/family discs. "Birds, Bugs and Slugs" (5:21) looks at the bugs in real life and in their natural habitat, while "Rot Rocks" (3:18) does the same thing, but from the antagonist's side of things. "Bugs of Camouflage" (3:44) looks at bugs and camouflage, while "The Epic Life at 2 Inches" (3:42) explains how things would be if you were shrunk down to such a height, and with science to boot! "Mysteries of Moonhaven Revealed" is a multipart look at the production which interviews some members of the cast and examines the challenges in animating such a story (7, 24:39). The film's trailer (2:12) concludes the disc side of things. The disc also comes with a standard definition copy of the film (the source for the pics in the review) and digital copies of the film for iTunes and Ultraviolet users in your respective ‘hood.
Epic may serve as a nice distraction for your children when you put them in front of the television and leave for an hour and a half, but if you find yourself sitting down to watch it, there just is not a lot of entertainment there to keep you engaged through the film. Technically it looks and sounds great, but from a bonus material perspective brings things neither new nor entertaining to sit down and watch. There are better children's films with more robust disc packages out there, this is worth a rental, and at a discount at best.