If co-writer/director Chris Wedge’s film Epic has its way, all kids will be outside trying to discover a whole new world, right in their own backyards. Bringing to life the adaptation of William Joyce’s book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, seemed to be a great deal of fun. How much of that behind-the-scenes fun made it to the film isn’t what you’d hope, but Epic is definitely one of the better family films to come out this year. Seeing how the box office is currently littered with lackluster fare such as The Smurfs 2, Planes, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, your best bet would be to stay home and take in a film that’s at least far more visually stunning — especially in 3D. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment releases the Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack on August 20.
In Epic, we learn that the battle for the forest’s survival is on-going between the Leafmen and the evil creatures called Boggans. Nod (voiced by Josh Hutcherson) is always going against the odds, much to the chagrin of their Leafmen leader, Ronin (voiced by Colin Farrell). Queen Tara (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles) is about to choose a new heir, which takes place once every 100 years. Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz) sets out to stop her at all costs, especially in order to get revenge for the death of his son, Dagda (voiced by Blake Anderson).
Back in the human world, Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), has just arrived at the home of her eccentric father, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudekis), after the death of her mother. Bomba has been desperately searching for the Leafmen and has no time to spare in taking care of an estranged daughter. Infuriated, Mary Katherine attempts to leave, but not before the dying Queen Tara accidentally shrinks her. Now, Mary Katherine has joined the ranks alongside the Leafmen to stop Mandrake’s evil scheme, keep the peace of the forest, and help Queen Tara’s successor take the reins.
The plot may seem a little convoluted for a kid’s film, but Wedge keeps the pace moving along, never letting it get too bogged down to a snail’s pace. Considering the two comic relief characters are a slug and a literal snail — Mub (voiced by Aziz Ansari) and Grub (voiced by Chris O’Dowd) — it’s all for the better. What’s surprising is that Epic took five writers — Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle, and Matt Ember, in addition to Wedge and Joyce — to come up with what feels like the love child of FernGully and Avatar. Crammed with ecological messages — but never pounding viewers over the head — Epic makes up for its story shortcomings with grand adventure and some amazing visuals.
As for the visuals, Epic arrives on Blu-ray 3D in a 2.40:1 ratio on a 50GB disc. With no special features to take up space, and the 2D version on its own disc, the 3D transfer truly gets its chance to shine. Depth takes on a life of its own. Every tree leaf, character, and swirling dust particle is delivered with amazing clarity. With this being a brand spanking new, digitally crafted film, there’s no noise, crush, aliasing, or even banding to speak of. The 2D transfer looks just as amazing, except that the 3D certainly helps whisk you away into Joyce’s world of talking plants and animals. As for the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, every line of dialogue is presented with crystal clarity and the surrounds are always active. Even a falling tree is given perfect directionality as it falls from the front right, seemingly across your head and crashes to the ground behind you. Between the sound mix and the 3D presentation, you’d almost think you were shrunk down to size right along with Mary Katherine.
The special features are solely aimed at the youngsters with featurettes that act more like something they’d watch in science class. They’re also extremely literal in their titles, but thankfully all run rather short. First up is “Birds, Bugs and Slugs: Forest Explorer” that introduces viewers to the birds, bugs, and slugs of the forest. “Rot Rocks” teaches us that there’s more to decay than meets the eye and explains how it’s actually rather helpful in keeping the balance of the forest. “Bugs of Camouflage” shows us how everything from walking sticks to sand spiders camouflage themselves either for their own safety or to attack their next meal.
“The Epic Life at Two Inches” gives us insight as to how being so small would affect strength and stamina in the real world. Finally, “Mysteries of Moonhaven Revealed” is the longest feature (24 minutes), made up of sections covering the behind-the-scenes of the film: “The World,” “The Leafmen,” “Queen Tara,” “Mub & Grub,” “Nim Galuu,” “The Stompers,” and “Finding Moonhaven.” There’s also a theatrical trailer and a “Sneak Peeks” section containing trailers for other Fox endeavors such as: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Shrek the Musical, The Croods, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Dragons: Riders of Berk, a 3D promotional piece, and a quick “Team Energy Star” blurb about finding information online about how to be more energy efficient.
While the story of Epic feels a little “been there, heard that,” at least the visuals make up for it. The voice cast is having a lot of fun, with Hutcherson showing us that he’s a much more enthusiastic voice actor than a live-action one. Waltz is perfectly cast as the villain, except he’s set up to be more villainous than he winds up being, because you rarely see him throughout the film until the final battle finally rolls around. Featuring a stellar 3D picture, with an enveloping use of surround, Epic is certainly a good-natured (sorry) diversion. It’s just too bad that it never gets the chance to live up to its title.
Cover art and photos courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment