epic

A good chunk of time can be saved just by saying this: Epic is a nice enough movie. Kids will like it, and adults will most likely not be offended by it. It’s very nice-looking, so it’s probably worth a visit to the theater, possibly even in 3D.

Now, if movie reviewing were all about consumer advice, that’s really all that any critic would have to say about any new release. But reviews are supposed to dive into the hows and whys of the artistic merits of their subjects, right? Except no one cares much about those elements when it comes to movies aimed at children.

This much is true: kids will like pretty much anything, as long as there’s enough loudness to keep them looking at the screen. So studios can churn out anything they want and please that audience. Of course, this also means that writing “kids will like it” about any of these movies is meaningless in criticism. The target viewership won’t scrutinize it for the most part, their parents will just grin and bear it, and critics will likely give these movies a free pass, unless there’s one fart joke too many. So what’s the point of reviewing kids movies?

All this is just a roundabout way of explaining why so many animated and family films are so terrible. People are too willing to cut them slack. It’s condescending to the youth, and results in a lot of agony for grown-ups. And that’s why I do not go easy on any movie just because it’s “for kids” – because I don’t think you should have to grow up before you get to see any good movies.

Epic takes place in a forest where tiny creatures, hidden from humanity, wage war over the balance of nature. There’s the leaf men, who fight for life, and the boggans, who fight for decay and rot. You can tell who’s good and who’s evil because one side is full of pretty humanoid people and the other has ugly monsters and is led by a character voiced by Christoph Waltz. A human girl, Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), gets dragged into this conflict when magical happenstance shrinks her down to the forest denizen’s size. She has to escort a macguffin, while protected by leaf men leader Ronin (Colin Farrell), rookie warrior / love interest Nod (Josh Hutcherson), and a comic relief pair of a slug and a snail (Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd).

There are, as befits current kid flick trends, many more characters, each with their very own celebrity voices. Beyonce, Pitbull, Steven Tyler, and Jason Sudeikis are also hanging around, most of them showing up for two or three scenes before dropping out of sight and mind. This is an overstuffed cast, one result being that most characters go through the motions of changing without anything in the plot actually motivating those changes. At the beginning, Nod quits the leaf men for the flimsiest of reasons, in the midst of the most rapid, breathless exposition over his past with Ronin. O’Dowd’s snail wants to be a leaf man. At the end of the film, he gets to join them. Why? Because the movie’s over, and it’s time for everyone to get what they want.

Interestingly, this is a rare movie about a fantastical nature world without an ecological message. “Man” is not the enemy here, as in the similar ilk of Avatar or Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. But that speaks less to a lack of ideological agenda than it does to a simple desire not to displease any potential audience members. Everything about this movie, right down to the title, seems designed to be as “archetypical” (read: generic) as possible.

Going in, I feared that Epic would be terrible, based on the promos. It isn’t. The animation is stunning at times, with lush vistas and great character movement. The acting is competent, even if most of the actors are simply playing to their known personas (Ansari is an overconfident would-be ladies man! Shocker!). But increasingly, I find that “competent” doesn’t really cut it for me anymore, and that goes for more than just children’s films. For many, though, it’ll probably be enough.