This bark has bite
The nifty 3D allows Epic to soar over its complicated but routine plot, writes Tara Bady
American rapper, Pitbull, and by older, catch-all, popular enemies such as the Germans: see (or rather hear) Christoph Waltz’s cackling super-villain in Epic 3D, the latest feature from Blue Sky Studio animation.
Epic is a big deal for the little animation imprint that could. Ten years ago, just as the entire medium seemed to be in the sway of a new digital democracy, rough-hewn, handmade cartoon features such as Hoodwinked became unlikely mainstream hits. Every major studio, in turn, set out to create or adopt its own animation imprint.
Blue Sky was snapped up by 20th Century Fox as an FX shop in 1997. The Murdochian Megacorp had considered selling the studio when, in 2002, Ice Age, Blue Sky’s first feature, became an unexpected global hit.
Those anachronistic early mammals have never faltered since. Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth in the prehistoric sequence, was the fifth biggest film of 2012 with a box office haul of $877 million .That’s more than The Hunger Games, The Amazing Spider-Man and MIB3 in the same period.
Can the Blue Sky boutique attract the same number of punters without Scrat the incomparable squirrel or the growing mammoth family? It would seem so. Two years ago, Rio sold enough tickets ($485 million) to justify a sequel, and the studio’s 2015 reboot of Peanuts will put Peppermint Patty – our favourite comic strip lesbian – back on the big screen where she belongs.
Epic, particularly set beside these ongoing concerns and potential franchises, feels like a lonelier, singular project. A woodland spin on the shrinky-dink antics of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (or Gulliver’s Travels, for that matter), Epic’s heroine, MK (Amanda Seyfried, thankfully better as a voice than as a physical presence) finds herself reduced down to insect size and at the centre of a war between noble, good-looking wee folk such as Josh Hutcherson and hideous misshapen creatures called Boggins.
It’s complicated. When the queen of the forest (Beyoncé) attempts to select an heir in time for the lunar eclipse, the chosen bud must bloom in moonlight or risk eternal corruption, thereby plunging the forest into darkness forever.
Huh? Seriously? Ingmar Bergman’s Persona was easier to follow. The trouble with Epic – and we’ve encountered similar problems with other William Joyce-authored movies ( Rise of the Guardians, Meet the Robinsons, Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) – is that it’s a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing.
It takes an age for Colin Farrell’s warrior to communicate exactly what is going on here. It takes another age for us to work out who we’re supposed to be cheering on. Is it the Farreller? Is it Hutcherson’s wayward boy-racer? Is it Seyfried’s dwarfed campus scold?
Just to add to the befuddlement, there’s a daddy-daughter bonding subplot, a singing scholar voiced by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and any number of comic reliefs.
To be fair, Epic does all click together in the final act once one has negotiated the film’s many, many details and rules. The snails, especially the daring one voiced by O’Dowd, are properly funny. And the 3D is – well, what do you know – real 3D, not the tacked on kind.
Overall, the finished product is closer in spirit and quality to Rio than to Ice Age. Then again, the $485 million worth of ticket sales for that earlier film can’t be wrong. Can it?