Like many other recent animated features, Epic leaves the viewer shaking his head, saddened at the thought of the many artists who worked so hard to create something ultimately unworthy of their talents. It's not a disaster or an embarrassment like Hoodwinked or Barnyard, but given the experience and abilities of Chris Wedge and Blue Sky artists, it should be better.
Mary "M.K." Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) joins her eccentric father Professor Bomba in his laboratory-home after the death of her mother, who's mentioned only as a plot contrivance. Bomba has dedicated his life to proving that miniature civilizations exist in nearby forest. When M.K. chases her three-legged pug into the woods, she learns her father is right: There are two mini-cultures. Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) of the Leafmen has just chosen the mysterious pod that will bloom under the full moon of the solstice and continue the Spirit of the Forest. Until then, the comics Mub the slug (Aziz Ansari) and Grub the snail (Chris O'Dowd) must keep it most. When members of the nasty Boggans tribe mortally wound the Queen, she somehow shrinks M.K. to bug size and charges her with protecting the pod.
Working with M.K. are Ronin (Colin Farrell), the Queen’s stalwart guard; irresponsible, rowdy Nod (Josh Hutcherson); and mellowed-out caterpillar-librarian Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, apparently trying to channel Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski). King Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) leads the Boggans on an attack to steal the pod, threatening the forest with destruction. M.K. helps recapture the pod after the predictable reconciliation with her father. It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal the pod opens and the new queen restores MK to her proper size.
The backgrounds are often striking handsome: The lush ferns and flowers that open in patterns in the Leafman’s kingdom juxtapose nicely with the dead trees, bolls and galls of the Boggans' realm. Unfortunately, the backgrounds are often more interesting than what’s happening in front of them.
Although six people have story and/or screenplay credit, the plot feels like pieces of other films insecurely stitched together. The secret miniature world and its inhabitants recall Ferngully, Ant Bully and other bug’s eye POV movies. M.K. is yet another feisty red-haired heroine; her father Professor Bomba is a cliche-ed idiot savant scientist who can’t see the problem right under his nose. Although he's not nearly as well animated, Nod looks and talks too much like in Flynn in Tangled--yet another dashing, undisciplined rogue with a heart of gold.
Nor is the story particularly well told. A horde of Boggans swarms over Ronin during a battle, but he re-appears several scenes later, brushing off a few scratches. How did he get away? Comic gastropods shouldn’t trade playground insults during dramatic scenes that are supposed to build tension. That’s Filmmaking 1A: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don’t interrupt Hamlet’s soliloquy.
But the biggest problem with the story is its misunderstanding of the natural world. Except for a few throw-away lines from Mandrake at the beginning, there’s no sense of the essential balance of nature. The Boggans and the Leafmen aren’t irreconcilable enemies: Birth and growth can’t take place without death and decay. Miyazaki suggested this principle succinctly in Princess Mononoke when each step of the Deer-God's hooves caused plants to arise, blossom and wither; The Lion King cited "the Circle of Life."