This bark has bite

The nifty 3D al­lows Epic to soar over its com­pli­cated but rou­tine plot, writes Tara Bady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

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?

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