The bar has definitely been raised for contemporary animated features, not just in terms of quality but also subject matter, and Epic is an example.
Using an array of technological advances, the latest computer-generated effort from director Chris Wedge (Ice Age) has those familiar talking-animal sidekicks and colorful visuals, but it goes as much for action and suspense as it does for laughs.
The film begins with parallel stories that intertwine. M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) is a teenage girl sent to live with her father (Jason Sudeikis), an eccentric scientist who lives in a secluded cabin. She doubts her father’s belief in the existence of microscopic leafmen until being drawn into their forest world when she comes into contact with Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles).
The queen relays a tale of desperation, in which the army of leafmen, including young warrior Nod (Josh Hutcherson) must defeat an attack by evil rodent villains in order to ensure the survival of the forest. So M.K. joins the fight while trying to reconcile with her father.
The highlight of Epic is the impressively detailed animation, especially during the plentiful flying sequences. Creativity is on display in everything from the creatures to the plants, with a sensible usage of 3D.
Wedge smartly keeps the pace lively throughout, helping to smooth out some rough edges in the ambitious but convoluted story that never achieves its goal of replicating a good-against-evil showdown with world power in the balance.
The strong cast includes a handful of recognizable voices, including Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, and musicians Pitbull and Steven Tyler.
With its focus on pint-sized pixies and an outdoor fantasy world, the film is aimed more at children than adults, even though some of the more intense scenes might be too scary for small kids.
The script includes some mild lessons about ecology and promotes a healthy imagination that should resonate with youngsters. It also includes a pair of strong female protagonists, and a combination of snail and slug for the requisite comic relief.
Even if it gets too carried away with quirky supporting characters and its imaginative vision at times feels overwrought, Epic has enough excitement and visual flair to appeal to moviegoers of any age.
Rated PG, 102 minutes.