Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Cinema File #188: "Epic" Review

People talk about guilty pleasures all the time, but I've never really understood this concept. If you like something, even if the majority of people don't or think its silly, why would you be ashamed of it? Doesn't the fact that you like it indicate that there is something worth liking, thus making all the opinions to the contrary immediately suspect? I don't know. All I know is, I just watched a movie called Epic, a kids' film intersecting two of my greatest passions, fairy tales and animated cinema, that as a man in my now late twenties I gather I should feel bad for liking. I'm not really sure why, so I'm just going to go ahead and not do that.

Epic is the story of a teenage girl coping with the recent loss of her mother who finds herself on an adventure in the woods when she is shrunk down to the size of a hidden race of fairies in the middle of a war against an army of monsters with the fate of the forest at stake. It's basically a reverse gender Ferngully minus the overt environmentalism and with the scope and whimsy of something like Rise of the Guardians. If you followed the link just then, you'll find that I praised Rise of the Guardians quite a bit upon its release and still do. Frankly, Epic is not quite as, well, epic, but what it lacks in an immediate visceral impact upon the child inside me, it makes up for with a consistently fun and frenetic tone, a pace that never lets up once it gets started, and a visual style that accomplishes the arduous task of bringing some much needed badassery to the fae folk.

I sense in this film a struggle between the competing impulses of modern mainstream animated cinema, between the better angels that brought us the best of Pixar and Dreamworks under the ethos that kids are smarter than most people think, and the temptation to revert back to the shallow Happy Meal friendly pablum of the 90's. Both the message of the movie and the light hearted humorous way in which it is presented often seem to pull in the direction of just a little too jokey and hackneyed, then at the last second it pulls back. We get comic relief slugs and caterpillars, but just as they might be getting annoying, they stop emphasizing them. We get a wise cracking bad guy in the first half, who then morphs into a grieving father motivated by legitimate pain in the second.

This movie feels like a relic of a bygone age of terrible animated movies, resurrected in a time where the standards are much higher, remade with the skill and detail to meet them. I can easily see this movie being made in the environmentally conscious “Save The Rainforest” extreme! 90's, and I can totally imagine it sucking as a result, despite it likely being done with traditional animation, possibly by Don Bluth in his post Rockadoodle decline. Thankfully, we get it now, and while I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic, I would easily say that if not for The Croods it would be by default the best animated movie of 2013 so far, beating Escape From Planet Earth by a mile.

Unless you're even more into this subject matter than I am, which would be kinda hard, Epic most likely won't inspire you into any great fits of childlike wonderment. Its ideas are simple, though not necessarily simplistic, and at the end of the day the point is to let go and let the fanciful setting wash over you as you watch tiny dudes with leaf armor shoot rotting bog monsters in the face with arrows. If you can't get behind that, then this isn't for you, but I for one appreciated the excursion. What it does, it does well enough to justify the expense of watching it, and over a Memorial Day weekend chock full of soul numbing wastes of my time like the sixth Fast & Furious movie and the third Hangover movie, Epic was at the very least a welcome respite.

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