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Epic (2013)

It could be argued that we're living in something of a golden age of western theatrical animation. Certainly, it terms of sheer numbers, more animated features are being released than ever before. With this volume of material hitting screens every year it's inevitable that some would fall through the cracks, and not really receive the attention that they might deserve.

With Frozen, Monster's University and Despicable Me 2 winning all the plaudits and box office moolah in 2013 it seemed very few people were talking about Blue Sky's Epic. It's perhaps not that surprising, as the trailers weren't anything special suggesting a kind of cross between Fern Gully and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. That's something of a shame, however, and if you give it a chance you'll find it's actually a very enjoyable family film with some really impressive animation.

The story follows young teen Mary Katherine (also known as MK) when she moves in with her estranged father following her mum passing away. Dad is something of an eccentric, a mad scientist type, convinced there is a civilisation of tiny people that exists parallel to our own. It turns out he's right, and MK gets shrunk down and caught up in a struggle between the tiny Tree people and a race of evil creatures named Boggins.





Production studio Blue Sky are best known for the Ice Age films, and despite having being hugely commercially successful, they have not received anywhere near the critical kudos of their closest rivals. To a degree, it seems they have been hampered by the success of their biggest franchise. It's not that the films are poorly animated but they sport a heavily stylised and simplistic look that does not really showcase the best of their animation skills. As a result, it feels like in their Non-Ice-Age productions they really let loose, with incredibly beautiful, eye-poppingly colourful visuals in films like Robots, Rio and Horton Hears a Who.

Epic is undoubtedly their most technically accomplished work to date, with lush vistas and sumptuous visuals helping to create a film that is a knock-out in the looks department. The characters too are excellently designed, with attractive central characters, and a distinctive look for the tree people.

The world building here is top class, with the tiny samurai-inspired bird-riding warriors particularly memorable. Calling your film "Epic" is asking for trouble and you just know at least one ("hilarious") reviewer has used the "Epic Fail" joke. However, in places, it actually comes pretty close to living up to the lofty title. The struggle between the Leaf-Men and the Boggins results in some pretty audacious battle sequences that play out like a pocket-sized Lord Of The Rings. In other parts, it can't help but recall another recent epic- James Cameron's Avatar, particularly in the flying sequences.




The film gets a lot of mileage out of playing with the sense of scale, showing things from the perspective of the tiny forest creatures. It's not exactly a new idea and a similar thing has been done well in movies like Antz, Ratatouille and most recently in the Borrowers-inspired Arriety. Still, it's a fun concept and it's done particularly well here. The idea that the tiny creatures live life at a faster rate means that familiar beings like humans, dogs or deer appear all the more alien, and occasionally threatening.

Epic is weakest when it falls back on traditional family movie tropes. The humour mostly falls flat -at least for an older audience- and the "cute" mascot characters are generally charmless and irritating. These days, at a technical level there is actually little to choose from between Blue Sky and their higher-profile rivals. It's at the storytelling level that they can't quite manage to keep up, stopping their films from reaching above merely "good" to "truly great".

It's a shame, because this truly is a gorgeous looking film, and is clearly the studio's most ambitious movie to date. If they had taken a few more risks- and had a better script- then Epic could have been something special. As it stands it's just a solid, fantastic looking family film. Go in with low expectations, and you might just be pleasantly surprised.




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