If you grew up in the early nineties, you probably remember an animated feature from 20th Century Fox called “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” It was the environmentally conscious movie every 90s kid saw and, yet, nobody really liked. The film’s intentions might have been good, but even the youngest children seemed to find its blatant "green" message overly preachy. The fact that “FernGully” was lacking in any interesting characters or magic didn’t help.
“Epic,” which is also coincidentally distributed by Fox, is a bit like “FernGully” -- if "FernGully" had smarter, more imaginative filmmakers backing it. While it’s not a massive improvement, “Epic” is at least fun, energized and subtle with its environmental themes.
Jason Sudeikis gives an unrecognizable voice performance as an absent-minded professor named Bomba. Convinced that an advanced society of little people is living in the forest near his house, Bomba spends almost every hour checking the security cameras he’s rigged outside. Everybody thinks that the doc is completely bonkers, including Mary Katherine, his teenage daughter voiced by Amanda Seyfried.
It turns out, there are, in fact, tiny people, known as Leafmen, inhabiting the forest. Their leader is a noble warrior named Ronin (Colin Farrell), who is sworn to protect the forest from the evil Boggans, creepy-crawly bug-like creatures.
Mary Katherine is shrunk down to the size of a pushpin and gets caught up in the war between the feuding little societies. It’s up to her to protect a flower that will either bring green back to the forest or destroy it upon blooming.
On her journey, Mary Katherine encounters an overly confident Leafmen warrior named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who naturally acts as the love interest. Seyfried and Hutcherson have a nice chemistry, creating spunky, perfectly likable leads. The screenplay additionally takes the time to give them weight and develop a compelling romance. If there’s one qualm with these characters, it’s that they’re noticeably modeled after the leads from “Tangled.” Nod is the spitting image of Flynn Rider, while Mary Katherine looks an awful lot like Rapunzel minus the golden locks of hair. That doesn’t make the characters bad, but it does feel kind of lazy on the animator’s behalf.
The supporting comedic relief is cute enough, with Aziz Ansari as a slug, Chris O’Dowd as a snail, and Steven Tyler as a larger-than-life caterpillar. Beyonce Knowles does a respectable job as Tara, the wise ruler of the forest, who is refreshingly a queen as opposed to a princess. The only character that’s kind of disappointing is Mandrake, the Boggan leader voiced by Christoph Waltz. Anyone who saw “Inglourious Basterds” knows that Waltz can play a great villain. Although he does his best here, Waltz isn’t given a ton to work with. Mandrake just isn’t very complex, humorous or even menacing. To be fair, though, at least the bad guys in “Epic” aren’t humans that run an evil corporation.
From “Captain Planet” to “Avatar,” almost every form of environmental entertainment singles out the silly humans as one-dimensional villains. “Epic,” however, is courteous enough to leave human greed and corruption out of the equation. The whole environmental message is actually pretty tame compared to other movies.
At its heart, “Epic” is an action adventure that will make kids appreciate the earth without shoving morals down their throats.
While the little universe of “Epic” isn’t up there with “The Secret World of Arrietty,” it is certainly a detailed and lively one. The aerial sequences are particularly exhilarating, as the Leafmen soar over the trees via hummingbirds. Much of this can be attributed to the keen direction of Chris Wedge, who made the first “Ice Age.” Wedge and his team have produced a film with solid characters, a solid story and solid animation. “Epic” is just an all around solid film. That’s more than can be said about most environmental pictures that are targeted at kids or adults.
• Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com