EPIC: Many Leaves, One Tree

Epic Movie

Epic (2013) – Directed by Chris Wedge – Starring Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler, Judah Friedlander, John DiMaggio, Kyle Kinane, and Beyoncé Knowles.

The low-hanging fruit here is to point out that EPIC is not, in fact, very epic.

It is, however, a pleasantly likable, quaint little story about a teenage girl named Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) who’s forced to go live with her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), out in the country. Mary Katherine wants to be called M.K. and her dad can’t remember this, but that’s because he’s convinced there are little people living in the forest and spends all his time looking for them. He’s quite obsessed about this, to the point that M.K. decides to high tail it out of Crazy Town. Before she can do this, however, her three-legged dog runs off into the forest and she follows him and ends up getting transformed into a little person, where she proceeds to have as epic an adventure as someone can have while palling around with little dudes in green armor and running across anthropomorphic animals voiced by Pitbull and Steven Tyler.

M.K. has picked the wrong day to get turned small, as it’s the day Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) has to choose an heir to serve as the next life force of the forest. She has to choose an heir because apparently marrying the square-jawed leader of the Leafmen, Ronin (Colin Farrell), and making a baby the old fashioned way is the wrong kind of cross-pollination or something. Before Tara dies, she gives M.K. the plant pod that she chose to be her heir and tells her to bring it to Nim Galuu, which sounds like a magical place but is actually just a chunky Steven Tyler cosplaying as a glowworm.

Ronin (who is as misnamed as the title of the movie), puts a merry band together of people he does not want to work with: M.K., the two “caretakers of the pods,” Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O’Dowd), and Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a rebellious young Leafman who doesn’t want to be a Leafman.

There are two things about EPIC that should be painfully obvious by now:

1. This movie has some the worst character names in cinematic history: Mub, Grub, Nod, Nim Galuu, Professor Bomba, and Ronin who isn’t a Ronin.

2. People in this movie make horrible decision after horrible decision that all manage to work out just fine.

While EPIC isn’t epic, it is a fun, bright, simple, bouncy, harmless piece of cinematic fluff, full of likable characters with horrible names. Everything is so obvious here that I kept expecting to turn against the movie, but M.K. is actually a pretty great character, and her reconciliation with her father is so nicely executed that most of the obvious bits of the film felt more reassuring than tedious.

The bad guys in the film are called Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz, not the Magician). He wants to destroy the forest because reasons. EPIC does fall into that not-so-good-old-days trap of having most of the heroes be beautiful and the villains be ugly. The villains are even colored grey, while all the heroes are draped in gorgeous, vibrant greens. You could also call the film out for playing the “white woman saves the black woman” card with M.K. saving Tara’s kingdom, and for using Tara to come dangerously close to serving the dreaded “Magical Negro” trope, but EPIC does provide a wide-ranging racial cast of voices and holds true to its stated ideal of “many leaves, one tree” which does mitigate, if not obliterate, the film’s sometimes questionable use of race.

(Cue people telling me to get over it because it’s a cartoon in 3 … 2 …)

Mub and Grub are the most humorous characters in the film, though it is a bit disconcerting that most of their humor is derived from their failings. Mub has the hots for M.K. right from the start and he has a running feud with Nod to stay away from her because he saw her first. We’re supposed to laugh because there’s no way M.K. would ever go for a slug when she has the rebellious, handsome Nod around. And Mub’s cluelessness over who M.K. is actually into is supposed to cloud the fact that he’s a possessive jerk, applying antiquated concepts of male ownership over women.

As for Grub, he just wants to be a Leafman, which is supposed to be silly because he’s a snail and snails can’t be Leafmen because they’re fat. At least with Grub, for all of the laughs we get at his expense, the character does prove himself over the course of the film to be worthy of Ronin’s respect. Mub is funnier, but he’s also much more of a dick.

(Cue people telling me to get over it because it’s a cartoon in 3 … 2 …)

I bring these issues up because EPIC is an enjoyable film, despite its faults. As I mentioned up top, the reconciliation between M.K. and her dad is handled really well, and it’s the father/daughter relationship that picks up the slack from the limp M.K./Nod romance. M.K. calls out Ronin and Nod for being jerks when they’re ragging on her father, and she does point her father in the right direction to find the Leafmen, who have been purposely leading Professor Bomba astray.

It’s M.K. that really makes EPIC worth a watch. She’s not a perfect character, but she does show real growth over the course of the film, and it was enjoyable to watch that development.