“Moist is what we do”
Children’s author—and Academy Award winning animated short film director—William Joyce continues to make his rounds throughout the industry’s ever-expanding studio ranks with an adaptation of his book The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs with Blue Sky. Having already seen his work turned into feature length films with Pixar (Meet the Robinsons) and DreamWorks (Rise of the Guardians), it’s no surprise he would reteam with Ice Age director Chris Wedge in a larger creative capacity than was had as production designer on Robots. While not a strict text to screen transformation—the list of credited screenwriters is six names long—due to Wedge seeking an overhaul of the “quaint story” into one earning its new title Epic, the similarities to the aforementioned films make me guess it still retains Joyce’s original spirit.
In a sort of thematic hybrid between FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Epic becomes a showcase for life lessons about family, honor, and courage. Just as M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) returns to the home where she grew up and the care of a dad she hardly knows (Jason Sudeikis‘ Bomba) as a direct result of her mother’s passing in the real world, Leaf Man Nod (Josh Hutcherson) begins a self-reflective journey to discover his place in the forest now that his fallen father’s best friend Ronin (Colin Farrell) has taken his promise to watch over the boy to heart. Neither is ready to fully undertake the responsibilities or compassionate understanding necessary to leave the pain of loss behind and thus both retreat onto their solitary roads of escape.
But as both attempt to get away, powers beyond their control push them onto a converging path into the role of protector for the forest’s one hope at surviving evil’s steady hand of destruction. Life and death are literally pitted against each other here, balanced only by Queen Tara’s (Beyoncé Knowles) ability to grow and Mandrake’s (Christoph Waltz) desire to rot everything she touches. On the night the Queen must choose a flower bud to grow into her successor under the full moon’s light, evil arrives to wrestle away control and birth a dark prince instead. While Ronin’s sworn duty is to protect the Queen and the bud, M.K. and Nod must find the strength within themselves to put petty, selfish desire aside and fight alongside him for the forest’s salvation.
Bomba has tried to prove this secret world existed amongst the flowers and trees for years, watching his research and family slip away in the process. Fate—as it often does in children’s tales—allows the one person he has left the chance to discover the truth. Her leaving him again, unable to see his quest for answers has always been in a bid to win her back, ultimately presents them with the ability to start anew because it’s only through her absence that he realizes she’s been within arm’s length all along. We fight against the prospect of being loved because we subconsciously believe it isn’t deserved. We feel we can only truly get to know ourselves through isolation when it is those we love who give us the strength to reach our potential.
Friendship, family, and duty towards both are Epic’s central conceits as everyone gradually reaches the epiphany that they do belong somewhere after all. And when it seems impossible to defeat the darkness rolling in we find the courage to prevail. Like with Nim Galuu’s (Steven Tyler) ancient scrolls we look into the past for assistance in surviving the future, correcting our mistakes and learning to accept our failings as lessons rather than defeats. There is always time to make amends and declare one’s true feelings because even in death we can forgive. As the Leaf Men’s saying goes, “Many Leaves, One Tree”. Life is a delicate balance of individualism and community working together towards heights we can only imagine. We’re all singularly important, each possessed with the power to change the course of history.
It’s a wonderful message that thankfully never devolves into blatant subterfuge with political agendas or “Go Green” slogans being force fed into the heads of our children. There’s plenty of time for that sort of thing later; let’s instill a sense of morality towards our fellow man first and try to stop America’s obsession with using violence against to prove their points. Joyce’s production design and character development already subliminally plants this idea of nature’s beauty, creating a sumptuous environment inhabited by gorgeously rendered and personified plants and animals. The detail is exquisite from little leaf helmets on the good guys and rat/bat skin coats on the bad to the saddled birds, flower petal gowns, and rotted tree bark camouflage for the antagonistic hoards to infiltrate the light.
Add in the great comedic relief from Grub the snail (Chris O’Dowd) and Mub the slug (Aziz Ansari) with the adventurous spirit of M.K. and Nod to inspire girls and boys alike and you have an effective film for the whole family. Even Waltz’s Mandrake—the German was born for villainy—infuses enough evil to respect his power but not give children nightmares. A kindred spirit to Rise of the Guardians in scope and themes, Epic definitely cements Joyce as a talent for youth-oriented stories who has nicely taken matters into his own hands as far as bringing them to life in other mediums. They may not be cinematic classics or big box office successes, but each has found a way to delight audiences without talking down them and that’s a rarity worth noting.
 Grub (Chris O´Dowd), Mub (Aziz Ansari), Ronin (Colin Farrell) and Nod (Josh Hutcherson) prepare to aid a fallen comrade. Photo Credit: Blue Sky Studios – TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not For Sale or Duplication
 M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) doesn´t understand the madcap antics of her father, Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), as he searches for a hidden world. Photo Credit: Blue Sky Studios – TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not For Sale or Duplication
 Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) flies into battle to claim the forest he believes should have always been his. Photo Credit: Blue Sky Studios – TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not For Sale or Duplication