By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood March 22, 2013 at 4:03PM
Blue Sky founder and director Chris Wedge recently gave a sneak peek of his latest animated feature, "Epic" (May 24), at Fox (you can view the new trailer below). Judging by the footage, the action-adventure, set in a microscopic forest world, represents Wedge's most ambitious and personal movie. He describes it as both "a departure and evolution" for Blue Sky. It's certainly no "FernGully," and it's a far cry from "Ice Age" and everything else Blue Sky has ever made. It's more like "Avatar" meets "Gladiator," if you had to pin it down.
In fact, Wedge told me that he wanted a live-action, kick-ass sensibility and was particularly influenced by the cutting and pacing of the battles in Ridley Scott's Oscar winner. He sought swashbuckling and naturalism new to animation in look and performance. At the same time, Wedge was stylistically inspired by the illustrations of N.C. Wyeth and Arthur Rackham. He also very loosely based "Epic" on "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs," the illustrated book by his good friend William Joyce, who helped design "Robots."
Basically, "Epic" is a twist on "Alice in Wonderland," in which the daughter of an absent-minded professor (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) catches a glowing, falling leaf and shrinks into a hidden world where nature is protected by Leafmen: samurai-like warriors that ride humming birds, led by Ronin (Colin Farrell). She encounters a newbie Leafman (Josh Hutcherson), the Mother Nature-like Queen of the forest (Beyonce), slug and snail sidekicks that serve as comic relief (Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd), and the villainous Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), leader of the Boggans, dedicated to destroying the forest.
"I've been thinking about this one for a long time," Wedge recalls. "Bill Joyce and I were talking about working together in 1998. We met for dinner and he told me about how he'd spent the afternoon at the Frick Museum in New York. He showed me the brochure for a show about Victorian fairy paintings: Immersions in fantasies and adventures in the woods and these little creatures taking part in coronations and weddings and funerals. And I thought this is where we go for a movie right here. We talked about it on and off over the years and Bill did his 'Leaf Men' book, but it was never the inspiration for the movie. His book is charming and beautiful, but we created a new story and a new world."