Epic: Cops Out with the “Kid’s Movie” Excuse

By Riley Webster · May 27, 2013

Epic made me cranky. There I was in the theatre, a belly full of awesome sushi, surrounded by great friends, holding my lovely fiance's hand, and as every passing minute of the film felt like an hour, I just slumped farther into my seat, hoping for the punishment to end.

See, I was very excited about Epic. The first trailer is probably the best trailer for an animated feature I've ever seen—scored only to a Snow Patrol song, the movie looked like it would truly live up to its name, and was free from any celebrity names, lame jokes, and pop culture references. Then the second trailer came out and included all of that stuff, and I thought…damn.

Because if I can once again reiterate an issue I brought up in my Croods review—animated family films should NOT be comedies, nor should they be action films. Until the mid 90's, they never, ever were. Oh, they had funny moments and characters; everyone enjoyed Timon and Pumbaa and The Genie.

But do you remember when those characters actually showed up in Lion King and Aladdin? Almost half way through. Those movies weren't comedies; they were serious dramas, toned down for children. And everyone loved them.

A theory popped into my head during Epic (because I was so bored, I had to think of something), and that is that Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame screwed up all family animation, forever. Feature cartoons had always been rather dark and serious, but then Hunchback took it slightly too far. Children were traumatized and parents pissed off. Immediately following this was Hercules, where everything started becoming a comedy, and it's just gotten worse and worse ever since.

Anyways. Epic. The film is about a group of tiny Leafmen in the forest, who must protect their kingdom from an oil demon named Hexxus that oozed out of a tree with a big X on it and….wait, no, wrong movie, let me start over. It follows a young girl (Amanda Seyfried) who becomes shrunk down into the world of these little guys, where they then have to start "borrowing" stuff like thimbles and sugar cubes from the big humans and….dammit, nope, did it again, sorry. Long story short, they have to strive to protect the forest spirits, and that's when Princess Mononoke shows up on her wolf thing and…..shit!!!!

Epic isn't a very original story. At all. But hey, neither was Avatar, and that was an awesome movie, right? Well, Avatar redeemed it's narrative redundancy by showing us new sights we'd never quite seen before on a grand scale, and delivering on the requisite emotions to make us care about the characters.

I don't think anyone watching Epic will give two shits about Nod, the rookie Leafman soldier, or MK, the whiny teenager who transforms into a pint-sized Leafy and is amazingly aloof about it. There's no internal conflict in the film within the characters, so by the time the bad guy (Christophe Waltz) show's up with his army for the big external conflicts, we don't care what happens. At all.

Is the movie all bad? I guess not. A lot of people will find it cute. If your age is in the single digits, you might be delighted. The music by Danny Elfman was very enjoyable. The visuals of the forest were nice, although it all seemed rather fuzzy to me (maybe my 3D glasses were just real dirty, though). And I liked one section of the film, where Nod leaves the Leafmen and races a bunch of random forest creatures, because it opened up the world beyond just the "good guys" and "bad guys" we've seen, and suggested that there's a lot going on here. There wasn't, in the end, but whatever…still a decent scene. And that's about it, for the good stuff.

My best bud mentioned something at the end of the film, which I'm gonna rag on a bit. He said "It was a kid's movie. What did you expect? I liked it". And that's a good point—certainly, he isn't wrong. Epic is a kid's film; how can I fault it for playing it as safe as a 90 minute Happy Meal? Well, that's kind of the problem I mentioned earlier—animated films used to be "family movies," and now, for the most part, they're "kid's movies".

No one is going to mistake Beauty and the Beast or Land Before Time to be just a film for the kiddies. They were dark, and dealt with weighty issues. Today, most animations are Rio or Epic or Smurf's, and the kid's get dumber while the parents get bored out of their minds. A great, dramatic animation like Polar Express or How to Train Your Dragon is rare (unless you live in Japan).

So in a way, I find the "kid's movie" excuse a bit of a cop-out. Isn't that like when Dark Knight Rises came out, and a lot of us said "Geez, that script was dumb", and all knee-jerk response from all the fans was "Dude, it's just a comic book movie! Give it a break!!!" Well, that wasn't an appropriate excuse then for lazy writing, and it shouldn't be now.

Yes, DKR was a comic book movie, but doesn't that mean it should strive even harder to be something more worthwhile? And if Epic is just a kid's movie—why didn't it try to be a great family film, something everyone of all ages could enjoy, without being subjected to horrible puns, lame voice over acting, a repetitive and unsurprising plot, and literally the worst dialogue I've heard in years? Even Avatar's dialogue wasn't this embarrassing, and I often turn the script from that movie into a drinking game.

My friend wasn't wrong with his assumption, and skimming over a lot of critic's reviews, most of them shrugged and said the same thing—"It's just a kid's movie." Maybe the first trailer was a detriment, because it looked so good that I thought "Maybe this one will buck the trend. Maybe this will be an epic adventure full of mystery, romance, and beauty. Maybe it won't just be A.D.D. action sequences and horrible jokes and an ending I see coming within the first five minutes."

Maybe next time.

Final Note: So I've been a little snarky in mentioning films like How to Train Your Dragon and Ferngully and Princess Mononoke, all of which you should go out and rent instead of paying 15 bucks to see this one. But there's one last film I want to mention, and that's The Secret of Arrietty, a brilliant and adorable film from Japan that came out and disappeared last year. It's whimsical, it's beautiful, and it too is about a young girl the size of a fingernail trying to live in a world of massive humans. Any brain cells that die while watching Epic could be immediately restored with the rental of Arrietty. Trust me.