What really goes on in a forest? And why should we care? Is a forest just a bunch of creepy vines, trees too tall to climb, and annoying insects that bite and sting? Or is it a place where Nature works the magic the Earth needs every day to keep our world going strong? "Epic", this summer’s amazing animated 3-D feature film and a mascot for EPA’s 2013 Team ENERGY STAR program, tackles these questions head on in a roller-coaster of a movie you won’t want to miss.
I recently attended EPIC’s “green carpet” premiere in New York City with several of the film’s stars and an exuberant crowd of parents and kids. More on that later. First, what is the movie really about?
When it opens, an eccentric scientist, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), is looking for proof that the forest contains higher-level beings that help keep it – and the world we depend upon -- alive. He resides with a three-legged pug named Ozzy in a dilapidated mansion described as “not a house; it’s termites holding hands.” His obsession with his research has driven his wife away. But when his wife dies, their daughter, Mary Katherine, known as M.K., returns home.
M.K., voiced by actress Amanda Seyfried of “Mamma Mia” fame, is 17 years old, feisty, and, like her mom, thinks her dad is a bit of a kook. She’s about to run away when she is mysteriously transported into the world her father is on the verge of discovering: a fantastic forest filled with heroic “Leaf Men,” hilarious slugs and snails, and evil “Boggans” whose only mission is to destroy the elements that enable the forest to thrive.
M.K. wants to get back to her dad to tell him he was right all along. But before she can, she realizes she must help protect the forest – or it will die.
Fortunately, she has lots of help. Ronin, voiced by Colin Farrell, is the leader of the Leaf Men and a father-figure to Nod, a handsome swashbuckler played by Josh Hutcherson, last seen as Peeta in “The Hunger Games.” To Ronin’s dismay, Nod would rather race the birds he rides than join the Leaf Men in doing their duty: protecting not just the forest but Queen Tara, too.
Queen Tara, brought to elegant life by superstar Beyonce, is the heart of the forest and beloved by her people, called the Jinn. She lives in Moonhaven, an Eden formed out of living plants and stone that keeps the forest in harmony. One of Moonhaven’s most sacred enclaves is a patch at the end of a pond where Mub, a slug, and Grub, a snail, tend to the mystical pods from which Tara will select her heir.
Once every 100 years a new pod blooms to take over for the current queen. M.K. arrives on the scene just as the new pod is supposed to bloom. But the evil Mandrake, the Boggans’ ruler and arch-enemy of the Leaf Men, has other ideas. As played in all his diabolical glory by two-time Academy Award-winner, Christoph Waltz, Mandrake plots to capture the pod and destroy the forest forever.
Of course, an “epic” melee ensues. Good battles evil. Leaf Men battle Boggans. Queen Tara walks on water. MK learns how to ride a bird. In the end…well, you’ll just have to see "Epic" yourself to find out how it ends, but I can tell you this:
The audience loved it all. Parents shook their heads knowingly when Ronin reminded the naughty Nod that there are “many leaves, but one tree.” In other words, we may all be individuals, but we belong to the same community.
Kids "oohed" and "aahed" as they watched the Leaf Men zoom through branches and across waterfalls on the backs of iridescent hummingbirds made even more vibrant through the amazing 3-D imagery used throughout the film.
I found myself nodding in agreement when the slug (or was it the snail?) urged M.K. to throw herself into the fight, saying “The good guys need all the help they can get.” You got that right!
After the premiere, I and several other bloggers sat down with the film’s director, Chris Wedge, and some of the stars to get the low-down on the important take-aways from the film.
Director Chris Wedge is the Academy-Award winning genius behind movies kids everywhere love - "Ice Age", "Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!" and "Rio" among them. “My hope,” he said, “was that a kid would go out and see like, wow, those birds making all that noise, that’s not just a sparrow chasing a crow away from its nest, it’s Leaf Men and Boggans that are fighting.”
In other words, “There’s magic out there that we just don’t pay attention to,” said Wedge; he’s hoping his film changes that, even if just a little bit.
When asked whether there was abigger environmental message in "Epic", Colin Ferrell, who played Ronin, jumped in:
“This is me on the environmental warpath, absolutely. There's no doubt that there's a message that's inherent in the script just by the representation of the beauty of nature and the minutiae of nature and the simultaneous fragility and strength of nature…if anyone can come out of this with a moment's more pause for thought than they would have had before it or if kids want to go out and pick up a rock and see what lies underneath it and put the iPad down for five minutes, happy days, you know?”
Added Amanda Seyfried, perhaps speaking for her character M.K. as well as herself, “We all have voices. We have to do what we can.”
Even the slug and the snail – I mean, comedians Asiz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd – said their lowly roles created the opportunity to make an important point.
“You have to fight for what you believe in – even if you’re not the perfect person,” noted O’Dowd.
“There’s a fantastic world right beneath our feet.” It’s worth protecting!
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