Featuring diminutive heroes wrapped up in a big adventure, Chris Wedge’s Epic (2013) offers old-fashioned, if baggy, family fun. Based on the children’s novel by William Joyce, Wedge blends elements of Bill Kroyer’s eco-adventure Fern Gully (1992) with that of Joe Johnston’s family classic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). An impressive voice cast that includes Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried and Beyoncé Knowles do provide some odd dialect shifts, but in a tale of miniature warriors and magic, the majority probably won’t worry about a few Irish lilts being mixed up with the sugar-coated tones of middle-America.
Teenager Mary – or M.K. as she prefers to be called – finds herself living with her eccentric and estranged father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), a scientist convinced that there is a race of tiny warriors living in the wood behind the house. Scoff as she might, M.K. soon finds herself magically shrunken and caught in a battle between the noble Leafmen and the Boggans, a creepy race led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) who wants to spread chaos and decay across the kingdom. Whether the film is quite as epic as its title suggests is debatable, but there are at least some enjoyable motifs running throughout. What’s more, unlike last year’s The Lorax, the eco-warrior themes on show are handled with real subtlety and care.
Epic ramps up the drama, frequently hitting just the right level for the intended children’s audience. This is bolstered by moments of light comedy provided by a slug (Aziz Ansari) and snail (Chris O’Dowd), who are essentially the R2D2 and C3PO of the piece, against the more dramatic (and disappointingly underdeveloped) themes of parenthood. This is portrayed predominantly through the gruff Ronin (Farrell), charged with raising the headstrong Nod (Josh Hutcherson) who is, incidentally, also a love interest. Sadly, M.K. and her damaged relationship with her father isn’t explored to its full extent, becoming little more than a McGuffin to get M.K. into the enchanted wood.
Some may well find the overlong runtime problematic, something that could have been helped by trimming a few of the more incidental characters. Even as long as it is, this kids’ adventure doesn’t quite live up to its name and the glossy, polished animation is just a bit too dreamy. Importantly however, Wedge’s Epic has a quality rarely seen in children’s cinema; its violence has consequences, both personal and ecological. Better still, it’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place.