Kids, when you get big, don't forget the little people. That could be the implicit message of all the animated pictures predicated on the tiny, from A Bug's Life to The Secret World of Arietty. Since they're used to looking up to others, kids relate to tiny heroes trying to have adventures while not getting crushed by the giant movers and shakers. Epic goes back to that well, with entertaining results.
Directed by Chris Wedge (Ice Age), the animated Epic features "Leafmen" characters inspired by William Joyce’s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs. Publicists specially pointed out that the movie isn't based on Joyce's book; only the idea of the Leafmen is inspired by the book (got that?). It's good to be clear and accurate, but the sensitivity to this point might also betray Fox's nerves following the big egg laid by Rise of the Guardians, which was based on a series of books by Joyce.
Fox needn't worry, partly because Epic plays it safe and traditional, and should go over, well, big at the multiplex. "Epic" takes time to establish its forest world and its "hidden struggle" between forces of growth and decay. "Look closer" and you'll see epic battles on a small scale, fought between the "good" Leafmen and "evil" Boggans, agents of rot that live in holes and hide out behind dead tree bark. Never mind that it's all a part of nature: we need good guys and bad guys, and if the notion of a noble race versus an evil race is old-world thinking, it worked for Lord of the Rings, didn't it?
Yeah, there's really nothing new here: Epic swoops through caverns for Lord of the Rings-y battles, soars through trees for Avatar-esque high-flying excitement, and generally rips off every tiny-people yarn from The Borrowers to Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. But Wedge works out some moments of wonder and some magical animation that's dynamic, finely crafted in its detail, and inviting in its pastel hues.
Boys will dig the martial heroes (including Josh Hutcherson's young Nod and Colin Ferrell as his mentor Ronin), who look like action figures come to life, and girls will love the film's actual protagonist, Mary Katherine, a.k.a. "M.K." (Amanda Seyfried), an at-first-reluctant heroine who quickly finds her way to the forefront of the action. She's also the daughter of a researcher (Jason Sudeikis' Professor Bomba) who's on to the tiny world no one else has discovered, which allows for a character arc with a pot of "family bonding" gold at the end of it.
Following the Disney model, Epic leavens its adventure with comic-relief animals, and they're a quality bunch here: the professor's elderly three-legged dog Ozzie and the double act of snail Grub (Chris O'Dowd) and slug Mub (Aziz Ansari). Epic may be nothing new, but given its solidly built kids' adventure, I'm not going to, y'know, look down on it.