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While it might not amount to epic animated filmmaking in terms of scope and invention, Epic, a 3D, CG adventure-fantasy from Blue Sky Studios, nevertheless makes for pleasantly engaging viewing.
Set in an enchanted forest realm and featuring Samurai-type foliage inspired by William Joyce’s bestseller, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs (although the screen story and other characters are original), the production represents a satisfying step forward beyond the studio’s wildly successful but dramatically limited Ice Age franchise.
With its secret, magical worlds and legions of evil-battling leafy warriors, there’s plenty here to engage young audiences of both genders.
Epic shouldn’t encounter any problems holding its box office ground beyond the holiday weekend until the June 21 arrival of Disney/Pixar’s Monsters University.
After a zippy prelude that neatly sets up the ages-old conflict between those noble, good-guy forest-dwellers and the evil, creepy Boggans, hell-bent on destroying their lush paradise, the film shifts focus to the real world, where M.K., a spirited teen (effectively voiced by Amanda Seyfried) is attempting to reconnect with her estranged, absent-minded professor of a dad (Jason Sudeikis).
Turns out distracted Professor Bomba has long suspected there’s something unusual going on in the woods, and he’s rigged the surroundings with homemade detection devices.
But M.K. soon discovers her loopy dad was actually onto something when she finds herself magically transported to the microscopic realm of the Leafmen, joining forces and dimensions with the fearless Ronin (Colin Farrell) and the headstrong Nod (Josh Hutcherson) to take on — via stunt hummingbird — the Boggans’ dark lord of destruction, Mandrake (unmistakably Christoph Waltz).
Occupying the director’s chair for the first time since 2005’s Robots, Chris Wedge keeps the pace brisk and involving, especially during those lively battle sequences.
Where the animated film comes up short is on the inspiration front — despite the intriguing terrain, its stock inhabitants lack the sort of unique personality traits that would prevent them from feeling overly familiar.
But the energetic voice work (also including Beyonce as the forest’s regal life force, Queen Tara, Steven Tyler as a wisdom-dispensing party animal of a caterpillar, Pitbull as a wheeling-dealing toad and Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd as a spirited pair of slugs) is undeniably entertaining.
Credit production designers Greg Couch and William Joyce for establishing the film’s beautifully-textured wooded environs and sound designer Randy Thom (The Incredibles) for a finely delineated soundscape that allows for the rustle of a handful of leaves or a breath of air to coexist amidst those louder action sequences, which have been lent an appropriate sense of purpose by Danny Elfman’s buoyant score.
Opens: Friday, May 24 (20th Century Fox)
Production companies: Blue Sky Studios
Voice cast: Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler, Beyonce Knowles
Director: Chris Wedge
Screenwriters: James V. Hart & William Joyce, Dan Shere, Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember
Executive producers: William Joyce, James V. Hart
Producers: Lori Forte, Jerry Davis
Production designer: Greg Couch, William Joyce
Music: Danny Elfman
Editor: Andy Keir
Rating: PG, 102 minutes
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