With Ice Age 4 earning Blue Sky enough money to last another 3000 years, the ever-growing animation studio has taken a break from their reject Shrek franchise to give us a fresh product from their lineup of talent: Epic. With a title rather literal but also extremely vague, Epic tells the story of the young and boring Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfriend) who, when visiting her estranged scientist father Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), is whisked away into a magical forest world lead by the Leafman warriors - a world her father has spent years searching for.
Mary Katherine befriends the Leafman trainee Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and his guardian Ronin (Colin Farrell) and is tasked with delivering a flower pod to blossom in the forest, bringing back life and shattering the sinister deforestation plans of the evil boggun Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). The story is fulfilled and tied up in an extremely predictable fashion and everything is rather by the numbers in this family flick; it's not an offensively bad plot, but it never has any sense of true urgency and sometimes feels a tad bloated to boost the run time.
Epic is an aesthetic pleaser, boasting the usual stunning focus on lighting that Blue Sky are known for and fluid and jubilant character animation. Visuals are not the problem - storytelling is. Epic never really has the balls to live up to its inappropriate title, constructed from an unoriginal screenplay that ticks off the usual modern animated film conventions: a forced romance, comedic sidekicks, a villain restrained by censorship and predictable morals. I'm not hating it for being samey as I understand it's targeted at kids just as much as older audiences; but we seem to live in an age where animated films can never build upon the status quo of their style and are churned out without any evident passion.
With so much potential established, it is disappointing to see things go to waste. Epic boasts an impressive voice cast who all perform exceptionally and a likeable host of characters. But when the characters are established, their development does little to explore anything within them other than the cardboard cutout personalities on the surface. Sure, I like them, but they don't inject much diversity into the film; this can especially be said for Mandrake, the film's poorly executed villain. Voiced perfectly by Christoph Waltz and animated as fittingly scary, his character is then wasted as he's shunted to the sidelines until absolutely necessary. The film barely explores character motives, and some of the choices made by whoever wrote the film really feel a bit random.
The dialogue is funny and there's a good moral lesson but it's one we've seen countless times before; Epic just doesn't feel particularly engaging, lacking a vibrant heart when it comes to its characters and a narrative with any meaningful backstory. It's most certainly watchable and enjoyable, and that's the case with most animated films these days: it's not bad, just annoyingly uninventive and deprived of any true substance. The outline of the story has a lot of potential to dig deep into, but this isn't taken advantage of. It's a solid family film but, as is the usual problem, nothing more.