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In the animated film Epic, forests are protected by legions of tiny soldiers, all but invisible to the naked eye. Small enough to ride hummingbirds, they are locked in an endless war with a race of equally tiny goblin-like creatures who want to destroy the forest. Why do the goblin-like creatures want to destroy the forest? Because they’re the bad guys. Why do the tiny soldiers—called Leaf Men—look like humans, while the rest of the forest’s inhabitants look like anthropomorphic plants and invertebrates? So that the main character can fall in love with one without raising any questions about interspecies romance.


Though Epic is loosely based on William Joyce’s picture book The Leaf Men And The Brave Good Bugs—in which the Leaf Men are humanoid leaves—it also draws heavily from AvatarLord Of The Rings, and FernGully, with some Lion King and Phantom Menace thrown in for good measure. From the Elvish armor of the Leaf Men to the villain’s elephant graveyard-like lair, nearly every image in the movie seems borrowed. The plot is typical hero’s journey stuff, in which a human teenager, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, must save the forest by protecting a magical flower pod from an evil wizard-type voiced by Christoph Waltz.

Produced by Blue Sky—the animation studio behind Ice Age, its sequels, and the Ice Age-like RioEpic is heavy on celebrity voices and light on imagination. Its one original conceit is that forest-dwellers and humans experience reality at different speeds; to the Leaf Men, regular-sized folk appear to be lumbering, slow-witted giants.


This leads to the film’s one great sequence, a chase through the heroine’s home where she—shrunk down by magic—must help the Leaf Men evade her kooky dad and his half-blind, three-legged dog. In theory, computer animation is a medium where the filmmakers’ imaginations can run free—and for one brief scene, they do. Our tiny heroes leap flea-like from tabletop to tabletop; in the background, their would-be captors move in slow motion. But then the Leaf Men escape, and the movie resumes recycling plot points and visuals from other, often better films.