Last week, I was invited to a special presentation of some early footage from Chris Wedge’s new Fox animated feature Epic. I was asked to hold my thoughts on it until today. Though I will say I was not a massive fan of Ice Age (and actively disliked Robots), I did indeed like what I saw. And based on the image above, I must say I did not expect to.
The title of Epic is both grandiose and ironic – it’s a large-cast heroic quest adventure, but it’s also on such a micro-scale that everything is put into perspective, as it’s all happening in the woods behind one guy’s house. This could be seen as social satire of the pettiness of war, but I’m not sure that aspect’s going to be played up – Jonathan Swift fans will notice, at least.
Introducing the clips to us, Wedge described the story by saying, “In woods around the world, there’s a struggle going on between the forces of light and the forces of decay.” He wanted to do really big battles in unexpected places. This concept was introduced nicely with a clip in which a mad inventor type with crazy tech-headgear on (Jason Sudeikis as Bomba) is watching birds through binoculars, and follows them – crows are chasing a hummingbird, and eventually they knock it out of the sky. Bomba catches the little guy, and sees that it’s wearing a tiny saddle.
The key struggle in the movie is between the Leafmen, who can jump around like crickets and basically look human; and the Boggans, who are your basic troll/goblin types. Their evil leader Mandrake wears a bat-pelt and is voiced by Christoph Waltz.
Preserving the forest is Queen Tara (Beyonce), who can almost literally walk on water (because lily pads swarm in to meet her feet). She is preparing to seek an heir, which involves a ridiculously convoluted process that I hope will be better explained in the film, which involves a magic plant bulb being escorted to the secret residence of Nim Galuu by a comic relief snail and slug team named Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O’Dowd).
Meanwhile, in the real (human) world, the divorced Bomba is trying to explain to his daughter Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) that he has this crazy theory about tiny people. At some point, she runs off into the woods looking for her dog, unknowingly gets the magic plant bulb from Queen Tara, and shrunk down to Leafman size. There’s some humor when she meets a cute mouse without realizing it’s big and inclined enough to eat her.
There’s also a gangster named Bufo (Pitbull) – whose name is presumably a condensation of “Bullfrog,” which he is – who runs insect races, and then Nim Galuu turns out to be a party-animal caterpillar voiced by Steven Tyler. We saw scenes with the Boggan arrows decaying everything they touch and causing fungus to grow, plus one impressive money shot where the entire bark of a large tree turns out to be thousands of tiny Boggan shields. Wedge says he designed the Boggan lair of Wrathwood to look like some of the decaying woodland he sees in upstate New York, where he lives and has a neighbor who coincidentally is Christoph Waltz’s best friend.
The tone looked a lot less comedic than I had feared – the snail and slug characters are goofy, and at times overly so, but the tone of the adventure and battles looks serious and suitably action-packed. Not much of what we were shown was in 3D, but the bits that were involved some cool hummingbird-riding flight scenes.
And then came the trailer, which looks like everything I hate about modern cartoons, all pop songs and jokes (they could at least have sprung for the Faith No More song, couldn’t they?). It’s after the jump, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to see the movie after watching it.
What I will say is that having seen more of the movie, I think they’re doing a bit of bait and switch, promoting it like you’d expect cartoons to do and then actually delivering something more. I could be wrong, but there really is reason to hope.