Epic is a movie that I was a little apprehensive about watching. Judging from the trailers, it looked just like a retelling of FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Sure, FernGully is an amazing movie that everyone should watch, but I was worried that Epic would just be a cheap knockoff. At the same time, however, Epic is also based on a book by William Joyce, and I adore Rise of the Guardians and the book series that was based off. So I decided to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and watch it.
I loved Epic. I watched it while it was in theaters, I ran out to buy it the day it became available, and I’ve rewatched it more than a couple times since then. That means I think the movie’s good, right? Well… it’s okay, I guess. Epic has awesome characters who are easy to get invested in and some great animation. So of course I loved it, but the movie is unfortunately bogged down with numerous clichés and tropes. At its core, it’s a generic “good vs. evil” story that doesn’t do anything new. Epic’s entertaining, but as much as I love this movie and have a soft spot for it in my heart, there are certainly better things out there.
Epic’s protagonist is named Mary Katherine, or MK for short. When she was young, her parents divorced due to her father’s obsession with studying the forest around their house. Her father, Professor Bomba, is convinced that there are tiny forest people called Leafmen caught up in a battle of good and evil and has dedicated his life to tracking them down. Due to the divorce, MK grew up alienated from her father, and doesn’t have a lot of respect for him. But when her mother passes away from a case of Clichéd Dead Mom syndrome, MK moves out to the country to be with Bomba.
After arriving, she realizes that Bomba is still obsessed with the forest and feels as though her relationship with him will never be able to mend. However, before she can successfully run away back to the big city, their pet dog gets loose and she goes to chase him down in the forest, where she gets caught up in the Leafmen’s struggles. A magical enchantment shrinks her down to the Leafmen’s size, and MK is forced into a journey to help save the forest and the rest of the world. Along the way, she teams up with Ronin, an older Leafman war veteran, and Nod, a younger irresponsible rookie.
During an attack on a sacred Leafmen ceremony by the evil Boggans, the queen of the forest, Tara, is killed by a stray arrow. She used her last dying moments to shrink MK, and now that she’s gone, it doesn’t look as though there’s any way for MK to get back home. At the aforementioned ceremony, Queen Tara had found a flower pod that she was going to use to find her successor. Even though Tara is dead, the pod will still bloom within the next twenty-four hours and name a new forest queen. However, there’s a catch. The pod will only name a queen for the good Leafmen if it blooms under the moonlight. If it blooms in darkness away from the moonlight, it will choose an evil Boggan who can then destroy the forest.
Together with Nod and Ronin, MK helps save the forest by keeping the pod safe and ensuring that it blooms in the right conditions, all the while repairing her relationship with her father. At the movie’s end, the Boggans are defeated and the new queen lifts the enchantment on MK, allowing her to go back home and be with Bomba.
I feel as though Epic would hold up a lot better if FernGully had never happened. But it did. Though I find it impossible to not think about FernGully while watching Epic, the two movies do differ in some ways, and not always for the best. FernGully was focused on environmentalism, and Epic, while still an environmental story about saving a forest, doesn’t care nearly as much. As the movie ends and we all cheer because the protagonists won and the day is saved, there’s no underlining message about preserving the environment. Stopping the Boggans is the Leafmen’s job—and though Bomba and MK help, we are never left with the idea that we could be doing more as human beings. While I am glad that Epic doesn’t go the FernGully environmentalism route, I feel that was out of fear of more comparisons. It also strips Epic of some of the deeper meanings found in FernGully. Instead, Epic is more focused on the importance of family and believing in your loved ones. While that’s not a bad message, the movie is nowhere near as strong thematically as it could be.
Epic’s other biggest problem is the damn comic relief. There’s a talking snail and slug following our characters along in their journey. Both of them exist to lighten the tone, but more often than not they clash with the overall feel of the movie. One of them even starts making movies at MK and attempts to flirt with her at every opportunity. He also goes so far as to verbally berate Nod and attempt to get between the two of them. The slug literally treats MK as though she’s a prize to be won and Nod as his competition to get her. While these attempts are supposed to be funny—because not only are they desperate, we also know that MK is not going to hook up with a slug—it just ended up being annoying.
But let’s talk about what Epic at least did right. As this is a movie about relationships and trust, Epic excels with its characterization. Tara and Ronin are probably the movie’s more interesting and dynamic characters. Epic establishes early on that the two of them used to be lovers, and though they both have two separate ways of going about things, they still deeply care for one another. Thankfully, Epic spends a good amount of time with Tara’s character and letting us get to know her before fridging her for Ronin’s manpain, and that’s about where the movie starts to go downhill for me. Though we later discover that Tara’s consciousness lives on in the flower pod, she is still out of the movie for a good long while. At the very least, I can give the movie credit that Ronin’s manpain is not played up. It’s not a huge part of the movie at all.
His feelings for Tara and his grief over her death do affect him, but he never goes on some quest for revenge. Instead, he keeps his focus on protecting the pod and making sure it stays safe in order to honor Tara’s memory, not only because he loves Tara, but because that’s what she wanted and it’s the right thing to do. In some ways, this makes Tara’s fridging more bearable. Her goal was to name a new successor, and after she dies, everyone else makes sure that goal is completed. As such, as annoying as her death is, it never overpowers who she was as a person when she was alive.
I honestly would have rather this movie been about Tara and Ronin, because their relationship and storylines are so much more entertaining than MK’s and Nod’s. Though MK and Nod are interesting and compelling in their own right, it’s really Tara and Ronin who I was invested in. Tara ended up being my favorite character, and her fridging is awful in more ways than one. She is, out of all the main characters, the only Black Leafman. So after she’s gone, we have an entire cast of white people.
Also, as I said earlier, MK’s mother also inexplicably passes away before the movie even starts. After Tara’s death, our three main characters have all lost someone they love—Ronin loses Tara, MK’s mom is gone, and Nod’s father was killed by Boggans—and the movie does use those deaths to expand upon our main characters and help them grow and bond with each other. But I really wish Epic would have gone about it differently. One character doesn’t need to die in order to make another character interesting and give him or her a dark past.
Though Epic fails in a lot of ways, it’s not all bad. The animation is amazing, and it makes really good use of color. It’s bright and captivating, if a little childish at times. The characters are also really fun to watch. It’s just that Epic’s biggest problem is that it’s completely unoriginal, and you’ve seen it before. As such, though it’s a fun movie, you’re not really missing all that much if you skip it.