The notion of there being little people in the world has had a place in the imaginations of children for generations. Whether fairies in the woods or Borrowers in your own house, it is this archetype that the writers of Epic explore, in this thoroughly modern take on an old classic.
This time, the tiny people are the Leaf Men; a society living to maintain the life of the forest. Of course, like all good fairytales, there are the bad guys too; the Boggans, a mirror society of bug-men, whose sole aim is to spread rot in the forest and destroy the balance of the natural ecosystem. When normal sized teenager Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), aka MK - far more grown up - moves in with her father, the bumbling Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), she is mortified by his obsession with these imaginary mini-men, whom only he can see. But when MK stumbles across the tiny Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) and is shrunk down to leaf size, she finds herself transported to a magical world of hummingbird travel and predatory monster mice. MK discovers she has a vital role in an epic battle between the Boggans and the Leaf Men, a fight where life in the forest, and MK’s own life with her father, lie in the balance.
As is to be expected from the makers of Ice Age and Rio, the animation and art direction are impeccable. The script is dynamic and genuinely thrilling, with humour appealing to kids and their parents. At times, the story is almost unbearably suspenseful, to a degree not experienced since that furnace scene in Toy Story 3. Much of the success of modern animated films lies in this. Whilst clearly being aimed at younger audiences, the writers at Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, amongst others, recognise the intelligence and strength in children’s personalities and are never patronising; and for this they should be applauded.
For all its roots in the classic fairytale, Epic is littered with signs of modern life, with spy cams, mp3 players and MK’s cut-off leggings. For grown ups, the sudden appearance of a webcam does break the spell somewhat, seeming incongruous, and a bit too much like product placement, in a genre targeted at children and which, for us big people, is essentially rooted in nostalgia. But I can only observe that younger audiences don’t seem to blink at the thumb swipe of an animated fairy flicking through tracks on an iPod mini, and grudgingly accept that these things are as much a part of their world now as yoyo’s were a part of ours. Moreover, it may appear unnecessary to digitally enhance the believability of a world designed for child imaginations, which are by nature limitless, but this highly advanced target audience seem more than comfortable with the 3D format, even if the glasses are too big for their faces.
No matter, despite these minor jars, no audience member, tall or small, spoilsport or believer, could help being touched by the rallying goodness of Epic’s prevailing childlike spirit.