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'Epic' review: Beyoncé stars in new Blue Sky Studios animation

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Released on Wednesday, May 22 2013

Director: Chris Wedge; Screenwriters: Tom J Astle, Matt Ember, James V Hart; Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Beyoncé, Jason Sudeikis; Running time: 102 mins; Certificate: U


Blue Sky Studios may be plucky underdogs when measured next to the brilliance of Pixar, but their ongoing Ice Age series and 2011's Rio show they know a thing or two about putting together bright and buoyant animated adventures.

Their latest offering Epic takes inspiration from William Joyce's book The Leaf Men and the Grave Good Bugs, bringing to life a miniature forest world populated by warriors riding atop hummingbirds, an evil tribe of Boggans led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and a Mother Nature ruler called Queen Tara (voiced by Beyoncé).

There's a human component to the story, too, with Amanda Seyfried providing the viewer entry point as teen Mary Katherine (she prefers to go by MK). The death of MK's mother prompts her to move in with estranged father Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), a crackpot inventor who, with his shock of ginger hair, is the spitting image of Conan O'Brien.

'Epic' trailer still
Bomba is keen to prove the existence of an advanced civilisation beyond human sight, but it's sceptical MK who stumbles upon them first after finding herself miniaturised and holding a pod that could save the world of Moonhaven and its Leafmen inhabitants from extinction.

A big-scale battle between good and evil ensues, as the forest's regenerative power fades next to Mandrake's ability to turn every living thing into ash.

There are echoes of FernGully and Avatar in Epic's eco underpinnings and sweeping shots of vibrant green. Though it's packed with immaculate design and eye-catching aerial set pieces, the film is ultimately let down by a script that leans too heavily on fantasy adventures of yesteryear and characters that never quite capture the imagination like Ice Age's Scrat or Pixar's protagonists.

The likes of Josh Hutcherson and Colin Farrell voice characters who cut heroic figures, while humour comes courtesy of a pair of wise-cracking molluscs (Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd) and Steven Tyler's caterpillar Nim Galuu. One of the funniest gags, though, arrives courtesy of a fruit fly who experiences his entire life cycle in just a few short seconds.

Epic's stand-out sequence happens away from the forest when the miniature heroes head back into MK's home. There are obstacles aplenty as they leap down from tables, dodge a three-legged dog and try to avoid detection from Bomba. There's a hint of The Borrowers about the sequence, yet all it really does is make you wonder how neat it could be to see a modernised 3D CGI take on Mary Norton's classic story instead.

Epic may lack the replay value of a many of its animation peers, but nevertheless it's a visually striking and likeable time-passer. Just don't expect it to stand the test of time like the classier offerings from Pixar or Aardman.

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