Am I the only one that's sad about DreamWorks leaving Paramount behind as a distributing partner and making the transition over to Fox? Fox hasn't had a very good track record with animation, so this move really had me worried – that is until now. 'Epic' isn't Pixar or DreamWorks quality, but it's a step in the right direction and a much stronger effort than other Fox-distributed movies.
I initially wrote off 'Epic' as being a compilation of many well-known animated movies. It appeared to be 'Ferngully' and 'Avatar' (yes, I consider 'Avatar' an animated film) rolled into one. While 'Epic' definitely has elements of those movies, it's different enough to feel like its own film. Yes, a human outsider is transformed into one of the natives, but the story that human is placed in has nothing to do with stopping mankind from destroying the Earth. There's no "green" agenda here.
Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), known as M.K., is in a hard period in her life. The movie opens shortly after her mother's funeral. Not quite old enough to be on her own, she's moving in with her father (Jason Sudeikis), who she hasn't seen in years. M.K.'s parents divorced long ago, a major source of the marital problems being her dad's obsession with his scientific work. Sadly, nothing has changed. He still places 100 percent of his efforts in proving that tiny people exist within the forest. He believes that these small people, known as Leafmen, serve as the guardians of nature. Of course, we quickly learn that he's correct, that the Leafmen are in a constant battle against equally tiny bad guys called Boggins who promote rot and decay.
Shortly after M.K. arrives at her father's home, the lore of the forest is explained to us. You see, forests have always thrived because a powerful fairy queen (Beyoncé) carries "the spirit of the forest." Every so many years, she passes that spirit along to another being. The day that M.K. arrives just-so-happens to be the day that the queen is going to pass along the spirit. As the Leafmen assist the queen, the Boggin army attacks and thwarts their plans, trying to steal the spirit of life and corrupting it with rot. As M.K. wanders through the forest, she stumbles upon the queen and gets pulled into their world – shrunken down and everything. With the help of the head of the Leafmen (Colin Farrell) and a cute young Leafmen soldier (Josh Hutcherson), M.K. must restore a healthy balance to the forest and put a stop to the Boggins' decay before it can destroy the entire forest.
The ongoing problem with the animated films that Fox distributes is an overabundance of seriousness. The problem continues, but it's not nearly as bad in 'Epic' as it is in their other films. There are plenty of wordy serious moments, but they're intermingled with good fun. Just to keep the kids entertained, there are even silly childish moments – especially those with the slug and snail (Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd). A good amount of comedy is infused for the parental audiences. Here's to hoping that this upward trend of lightheartedness and humor continues and that DreamWorks has a positive influence on Fox.
Although the script is rather bland, the voice cast carries the film right along. The surprise performance comes from Josh Hutcherson. Rather boring in his live-action roles, his vocal performance in 'Epic' is easily the best thing that he's done yet. Seyfried, Beyoncé, Ansari and O'Dowd are solid. Farrell is very good. And a few other surprise performances come from Steven Tyler and Christoph Waltz. Of course, Waltz's unmistakable voice is lent to the villainous head Boggin.
This year has been loaded with animated family flicks, but none of them have been amazing. 'Epic' surely isn't perfect, but it's one of the year's better animated flicks.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox has given 'Epic' a combo release that includes a Region A BD-50, a DVD and both a Digital Copy and an Ultraviolet copy of the film. The Digital Copy is housed on the DVD. The included paper slip that lists the Digital Copy and Ultraviolet code explains how to download the free 'Epic' Coloring & Storybook app. The keepcase slides vertically into a colorfully reflective cardboard keepcase - but be careful when making your purchase because the cover art is identical for the 3D and 2D releases. Small text on the upper part of the case denotes if you're holding the 3D or 2D version. When you insert the disc into your player, a Fox vanity reel, a 3D Fox promo reel and trailers for 'The Croods' and 'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' play. The main menu kicks off with a voiced-over intro of Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd explaining the special feature content. You can still access the menu buttons while this plays. After the explanatory demo, the standard main menu plays like normal.
Fox has given 'Epic' an absolutely flawless 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (at 28 MBPS) in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
This 2D version of 'Epic' still continues to carry a nice three-dimensional look. Obviously, it doesn't extend the world beyond the screen like the 3D version, but it manages to look deeper than many movies. Watching the 2D version, I realized that the visually appealing world of 'Epic' carries this look because of how the settings of the film are laid out. Set in large settings, the animators played with the foreground, the background and the space between. From dust particles floating through the foreground to the blowing trees of the background, the distance between the two is an infinite playing field for the action of the film. This decision gives even the 2D version of 'Epic' that great 3D feel.
I appreciate the amount of detail that 'Epic' was given. The lighting of the forest gives the picture a warm and glowing softness that carries a stark contrast with the lifeless world of the Boggins. No matter which of the two settings we're in, fine details are visible. Be it hairs on a bee's body, leafy patterns, rough bark or oily bird feathers, textures and fine features can always be seen.
The animation is so strong that it leaves no room for banding or aliasing. Colors are so vibrant that when we see the gray result of the Boggins' decay, the gravity of their rot carries a strong emphasis. Black levels are deep and rich without removing the fantastic fine details. After watching the film twice – once in 3D and once in 2D – I cannot find a single fault with the impressive picture quality.
I love that more and more studios are starting to go with 7.1 audio. Fox has given 'Epic' the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio treatment. Just as much love was put into the audio mix as the video quality.
From the very opening scene, the amazing dynamics of the audio mix become evident. Set mostly in forests, environmental sounds of cicadas, birds and bugs are layered throughout the channels. The sounds of a breeze blowing through leaves of a tree creates an imaging effect that allows you to follow the direction of the wind. Other sounds, such as soaring arrows or passing bats and birds, also show off the strength of imaging. All speakers are constantly lit up with these great examples of environmental effects mixing.
The vocal tracks are absolutely clean and clear. Large crowd scenes offer background banter that emits from all channels. Music also plays perfectly. Be it Steven Tyler's in-movie song, Beyonce's closing credits track or Danny Elfman's score, the music is a great-sounding spacer-filler.
Because the trailers for 'Epic' made it out to be a mish-mash of other family films, I literally expected nothing from it when I popped in the Blu-ray. Much to my surprise, I found it to be quite enjoyable and much better than the most of this summer's other family films. My daughters joined me for my second viewing (the 2D disc) and both enjoyed it from beginning to end. The story of 'Epic' isn't the most unique, but it also isn't without its creative charm. This Blu-ray set includes a DVD, a Digital Copy and an Ultraviolet copy of the film. The flawless audio and video qualities are just another reason this set is a worthy purchase. Most of the special features are directed toward children, but there's a decent 25-minute making-of for the adults. To the casual moviegoer, 'Epic' may only be worthy of renting, but if you have children, I definitely recommend owning it.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.