Of the stupid number of animated movies I watched as a kid there are very few that actually stand out. When I think of The Lion King I can tell you the character names, the plot, sing the songs word-for-word, retell the jokes, etc. It’s a well-defined, well-made movie, to the point that even though I haven’t seen it in over ten years I still remember it vividly. If you asked me to name a specific animated movie, I would think of something like The Lion King. Great movies like that are the exception though, and when I think of animation in general I think of a swirling, vague diorama filled with bits and pieces of a hundred similar, mostly forgettable movies.
If you took that diorama and made it into its own movie, you would have something that looks very similar to Epic. Epic is actually so much like that diorama that I’m not quite sure whether or not it’s specifically being nostalgic for those movies. Even if it’s not intentional, director and Blue Sky Studios founder Chris Wedge is one in a long line of people who started making stuff for Disney and then said “fuck it, I can just do this myself.â€ So he’s probably somewhat inspired by previous Disney quitters like Jeffrey Kaztenberg, Don Bluth or Bill Kroyer. Kroyer in particular directed Ferngully: The Last Rainforest which as many people have already noted, is a movie that Epic has borrowed pretty heavily from.
Epic’s nostalgic feel is probably the result of an equal mixture of Chris Wedge wearing his influences on his sleeve and of Chris Wedge, just like his influences, not really knowing what he’s doing. What almost all these movies have in common are forgettable characters in a forgettable plot that takes place in an intriguing world and it’s all very beautiful. All of the Disney cast-offs know how to animate. Most of them have also come up with an interesting premise. Almost none of them know how to tell a story. They end up trying to mimic what they were doing at Disney and the result are these trope-y archetypal characters and stories that just kind of blur together.
I’ve always been fascinated by these kinds of movies. They lead to a lot weird decisions. It’s pretty well documented that Disney character are almost always orphans, for instance. This probably happens just so you can have a story about kids going on an adventure without having to answer for where there parents are, which is weird enough reasoning on its own. But then movies like Epic try to copy the Disney formula and orphans are just kind of part of the deal. So you end up with a bunch of characters whose parents are dead…just because, I guess. Which is even weirder and a bit creepy. It’s always odd to hear children in a theatre ask “Her mommy’s dead?â€ in that way where you can tell they’re trying to wrap their heads around what ‘dead’ actually means, and it only gets weirder when you realize that that character’s mommy is only dead because for some reason it’s a rule that in an animated film, all parents are dead by default.
Epic definitely belongs in the vague, mostly-forgettable movies diorama. The characters and story are just too sloppy and ill-defined to stand out. It gets by on visual appeal and, if you’re like me, nostalgia. And it barely even does that. Compared to cartoon animation, 3D films are a huge investment. Blue Sky Studios isn’t exactly run out of some guy’s basement either. A lot of the DIY charm that its predecessors have is missing in Epic and there’s a lot more of the fill-the-seats kind of stuff you see from a big studio movie. I’ll save my full rant about how every fucking animated movie inexplicably has to feature celebrities for a review of a movie that I actually hate. For now I’ll just say that it’s fucking annoying to sit through an entire movie filled with people like Beyonce and Steven Tyler, but at least they have some sort of persona and were relegated to minor roles. Casting the vanilla, almost personality-less Josh Hutcherson as a main character is much less forgivable. That dude just defines milquetoast. If it weren’t for people like him we wouldn’t even have needed to invent that stupid, pretentious word.
In the same token, the prominence of 3D animation and its associated costs are what’s stopping more movies like Epic from being made. I would feel much worse about Epic if movies like this were coming out every year. As it is it’s kind of nice to see someone other than the Big Three take a shot at an animated movie, especially since two of the Big Three are owned by the third anyways. I wouldn’t want to see Epic again anytime soon and after seeing it I’m all caught up on nostalgia for a good while now. It was still a visually gorgeous movie that wasn’t a sequel or just Disney pointing at something random and anthropomorphizing it. It’s fun to see a movie like this about once every two years so if you haven’t seen Ferngully or The Secret of Nimh or The Land Before Time or Titan A.E. any time soon it’s probably worth a matinee. I can also almost guarantee it’s still better than Planes will be. – DT