By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
Any studio cocky enough to call a movie “Epic” without putting something extra special on the screen is just begging for “epic fail” comments from unimpressed critics. Although this beautifully animated offering from director Chris Wedge and Blue Sky Studios (aka “The People Who Brought You ‘Ice Age'”) isn’t bad, it falls so short of its grandiose moniker that “Adequate” may have been a better title.
That’s because nearly all of its action-adventure beats are so jokey, lightweight and Saturday-morning-TV simplistic that the story doesn’t have the sweep, menace or drama of a true epic fantasy. The basic elements of what could have been a bigger and better movie are here, with a shrunken human girl caught in the middle of a crucial battle between hummingbird-riding forces of good and a rot-worshipping army of darkness. But nothing about it feels monumental or overwhelming enough to be considered anywhere near “epic.”
It doesn’t help that the hokey dialog is loaded with tired contemporary clichés such as “ginormous,” “seriously?” and “I’m messing with you.” When one bad guy tells another, “You look good in rot—it’s slimming,” it hard not to wonder if the line originated in a bad sitcom.
The movie also is hindered by an inconsistent cast. Singer Beyoncé Knowles, who supplies the voice of the inches-tall spirit of the forest Queen Tara, delivers her dialog with a distractedly disinterested drawl. Steven Tyler, voicing a very hammily showmanlike caterpillar who is keeper of the kingdom’s scrolls, breaks into an awkwardly hammered-in but thankfully brief production number that is the film’s only musical moment (although a Beyoncé song is heard over the end credits).
As Nod, a stereotypically reckless but eventually responsible young rebel, Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games”) couldn’t sound more kiddie-film phony if his voice had been supplied by a computer simulator. Ditto Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miserables”) as Mary Katherine/M.K., sounding like standard-model, suitable-for-all-purposes Disney Channel teenager fresh from the cloning lab.
Jason Sudeikis is absent-mindedly professorial as M.K.’s ditzy dad, a gadget-festooned obsessive who has been trying to find evidence of the forest’s unseen little people for years. Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari, as a soldier-wannabe snail and a suggestive small talk-making slug, fill the movie’s “doofus sidekicks” slot.
Colin Farrell is good as a noble and mostly no-nonsense soldier who has the unlikely name Ronin despite the fact that the character doesn’t appear to be Japanese. Ronin gets to deliver the movie’s solemn “no one’s on their own” and “many leaves, one tree” moral about the interconnectedness of all living things.
Christoph Waltz is the theatrically villainous Mandrake, leader of gray-skinned little monstrosities called Boggans. And rapper Pitbull gives a shady Toad named Bufo a casually intimidating ‘tude.
William Joyce, who earlier produced and designed Blue Sky’s “Robots,” adapted the “Epic” screenplay with four cowriters from his book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.”
Visually, the elaborate attention to detail that’s obvious in the movie’s realistic renderings of forest settings, plants and creatures (both actual and imaginary) is impressive. Even Pixar’s CGI movies still don’t quite get humans right yet, but the videogame-style versions of people here will do.
What’s strange in a movie with so much outdoor lushness is that one of its most charming scenes is a small indoor moment. After M.K. slides across a floor and under furniture, she emerges with some clinging dust bunnies and a static charge that has literally shocking ramifications.
Then again, as the rest of the movie proves, little things can mean a lot.