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A slug, a snail and a duo of miniature forest guardians are par for the course in "Epic," now playing.
A slug, a snail and a duo of miniature forest guardians are par for the course in "Epic," now playing.

Visually impressive "Epic" tells a moderately sized story

Another month, another big, flashy celebrity-filled animated feature hoping to snag a slice of the oh-so-predictable children’s movie box office pie. The most recent colorfully drawn entry is "Epic," which comes from director Chris Wedge, the brains behind the original "Ice Age." And, much like its title, "Epic" is oddly bold and bland at the same time.

Amanda Seyfried lends her voice to Mary Katherine (nicknamed M.K. because acronyms are cool with the kids), a down-to-earth teen coming to live with her estranged, nature nerd dad (Jason Sudeikis) in his run-down house in the middle of nowhere. He’s too busy collecting evidence about a small race of people living and battling in the overgrown woods surrounding the house to notice M.K., but before she can run back to the city, she’s mystically shrunken down to ant size and brought to the magical forest world her father has been looking for.

Unfortunately, she’s arrived during tumultuous times. The queen of the forest (voiced by who else but Beyonce Knowles) has passed away just as she was about to choose a special leaf pod to be the heir to the throne. Now M.K. and the Leafmen, guardians of the forest led by Ronin (Colin Farrell) and his troublemaking ward Nod (Josh Hutcherson of "The Hunger Games"), must protect the pod and ensure it stays out of the hands of Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his grey, rot-obsessed army of Boggans.

"Epic" is the second animated William Joyce children’s book adaptation in less than year to come out ("Rise of the Guardians" was the other last Thanksgiving), and much like its predecessor, what the film lacks in a simple, absorbing story, it mostly makes up for with gorgeous animation. The lush, imaginative forest world looks vibrant and spectacular – even in 3-D – and the big, lively action sequences that make up a large portion of the story are visually captivating.

On the pleasantly surprising side of things is the voice cast. At first glance, the list looks half inspired and half distractingly overloaded with big name non-actors (Beyonce, Pitbull, Steven Tyler) that bode well for the poster and the ads, but not so much the movie itself. Luckily, it’s more the former than the latter. Seyfried brings an enthusiastic charm to her lead role, and Waltz is a brilliant choice as the sinister Boggan king. Flourishing comedy stars Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari serve as above-average scene stealers, playing a noble-hearted snail and a sassy, wannabe-stud slug with eyes for our heroine. Even Beyonce and Pitbull fit decently into the story.

The only real misfires are Tyler, who’s a bit distracting and a brief, forced musical number doesn’t help his cause, and Hutcherson, who brings nothing of particular interest to his rebellious hero-in-training.

With all of those components in its favor, plus a fairly amusing script, you’d think "Epic" would be a clear winner, but something’s missing. It feels harsh to say that the movie is generic, but besides a clever bit about how big human beings sound and appear to the forest dwellers, there is a definite lack of surprise or snap to the proceedings.

After a while, the bright visuals can’t hide the fact that the story feels pretty routine. Throw a battle here, grow a sweetly innocent romantic bond over there, toss the crucial pod back and forth between our tiny rivals, and end it with a huge battle and a happy send-off. Unlike "The Croods" from earlier this year, however, it doesn’t have the heart that could make it rise above the formula.

The film is diverting enough while you're watching it, but it fades fast. If you name your movie "Epic," it better leave a bigger impact than this. 


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