Still grieving for her late mother, Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) struggles to reconnect with her dad, Professor Radcliffe Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), an eccentric scientist determined to prove that the forest is inhabited by tiny mystical beings. An unexpected encounter with Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), fairy-like leader of the Leafmen, flings M.K. into a magical adventure as she is shrunk down tiny size and entrusted with a magical flower bud. Ronin (Colin Farrell), Queen Tara's most trusted warrior, explains the bud could be the key to defeating the evil Boggan forces led by the maniacal Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). Aided by Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a cocky young Leafman warrior with a lot to prove, the courageous M.K. sets out to save the forest.
Blue Sky, the studio behind the surprisingly enduring Ice Age series, crafted this more ambitious computer animated fantasy. Its success proved there was more to the team than slapstick silliness. Based on the 1996 children's novel 'The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs' by William Joyce, who contributed to the screenplay, Epic echoes themes and motifs present in other ecological fantasies aimed at kids. From Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992) and The Ant Bully (2006) to Arthur and the Minimoys (2007) (each of which involve a shrunken human protagonist exploring a diminutive fairy kingdom) along with the live-action The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). As with a great many fantasy films a great deal of screen time is taken up with detailing its environment which, while richly textured and evocative, comes at the expense of advancing a plot that meanders with a lack of urgency.
Though Epic initially establishes a strident environmental message detailing the interconnected nature of the ecosystem, which it smartly contrasts with the sense of alienation between father and daughter, the second act abruptly jettisons these concerns and settles into a generic, if still fairly engaging fantasy adventure. Chris Wedge, who directed the first Ice Age (2002), Robots (2005) and ill-fated live-action outing Monster Trucks (2016), keeps one foot in the zany antics of the Ice Age with a couple of throwaway gags that disrupt the flow (although Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd are fun as a wisecracking snail and slug duo that essentially serve as this story's C3-PO and R2D2). However between sporadic bouts of silliness, Epic pulls off some nice moments of suspense and pathos. Including the neat idea that being shrunk gives M.K. a new perspective on both her environment and father. On a technical level the film makes inventive use of its central conceit with M.K.'s unexpectedly scary encounter with a mouse and more magical meeting with a giant deer among the high-points. Strangely though, the animation of some characters' faces is less expressive than the voice acting.
An eclectic, surprisingly starry voice cast respond with gusto the script with its pleasingly nuanced characterization and snappy, well-crafted dialogue. Beyoncé is especially impressive in her brief but memorable role as a kick-ass fairy queen although you also get such incongruous casting as Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler (surprisingly good) as a wise old caterpillar and rapper Pitbull as a gangsta frog (?!) Amanda Seyfried and former SNL comedian Jason Sudeikis wring a lot of heart out of the M.K/Professor Bomba relationship, Colin Farrell's Ronin is a compellingly dashing sort but poor Josh Hutcherson inexplicably draws the short straw. Nod is a curiously charmless hero. Positioned as a pouty bad boy, he never really learns humility nor proves that deserving of Seyfried's winning heroine who shoulders a far better realized dramatic arc.