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Have you ever paid much attention to the little things in nature? What if you knew that there was a constant battle waged between the forces of life and death, and the future of the forest depended on it?
In the new animated film “Epic,” from Blue Sky Studios, the war is waged between the skilled warrior leaf men, and the boggans, wicked creatures seeking to destroy the forest. The leaf men are the samurai-like protectors of the forest folk and Queen Tara, the “life of the forest”. On the day that the Queen decides to choose a pod that would become her heir, a swarm of boggans takes the leaf men by surprise and fatally wounds the queen. While she lays on the forest floor, a teenage girl named M.K. (Mary Katherine) stumbles upon the queen, and is magically transported into the world of the leaf men. The queen bestows the pod to her, asking her to guard it with her life, as the future of the natural world depends on it. M.K. embarks on a journey of wonder and self realization as she and the leaf men fight to keep the pod alive and out of the clutches of the boggan army. Along the way, M.K. also connected with her mad scientist father who has been fascinated with the natural world and tried to uncover its many secrets.
The movie Epic is the highlight animation film of the year! The visual effects are absolutely magical, especially scenes with the stunning armored hummingbird riders. What sets this film apart from the rest is the magic, wonder, and enchantment that it brings to the audience. This movie makes you pay more attention to little things in nature. Nowadays, people are too focused on their lives and their work in the digital world, and rarely pay much attention to the natural world around them.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Epic’s director Chris Wedge, who has worked on this film for four years, collaborating with William Joyce (whom I interviewed for his Oscar-winning “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” in 2012). “Bill and I worked on this years ago. It’s never based on his book, we created an entirely original story, but borrowed the notion of Leaf Men in the forest, and created cool samurai-like warriors riding on hummingbirds”, said director Wedge. “My ambition was to make a big action adventure movie, in a cool place. Most of previous Blue Sky movies are comedies. I want to change that a little bit.”
I loved the movie and give it 4.5 starfish, it’s “Perrific!” The snail and slug provided great comic relief too. However, it still has a few flaws. For example, everything in the forest was recorded in a cave of scrolls, but in the film, it never showed anybody that wrote the scrolls, though director Wedge said the moths did it. Also, in one scene, a hummingbird carried M.K, Nod the leaf man, a slug, and a snail. Hummingbirds are not strong enough to carry much weight: their bodies are maximized for speed and lightness. They even have no bladders, just to lessen their weight.
Director Wedge and I had a spirited, friendly debate about how much weight hummingbirds can carry. I said I don’t see them carry anything in the wild besides their nector. He said, “next time you see hummingbirds, put some slugs on their back!” I love the idea, although it would be challenging to try! I also challenged him about how hummingbirds can fly in the dark of night, especially when the boggans blocked the moon, as hummingbirds have poor night vision. “But their riders see very well and can steer them!” I gave credit for that answer.
I asked the director what new things he learned from making this film. “I learned that my kids don’t scared easily. I could have made some scenes scarier.” he said. “I remember being a kid, and I didn’t like the movies for kids. I thought they were boring. I wanted to make movies that are more exciting, with relationships that are more interesting.” He said he liked M.K. and her father Dagda’s relationship. In fact, in the movie, I never saw M.K.’s father’s name mentioned anywhere. They could have used some props like a license plate or letter for that.
Director Wedge became interested in animation at 12. “I started making little animation films with my dad’s super 8 movie camera. I did everything back then. I got bored with drawing by hand, and started making stop motion animation, and never stopped.” For young, aspiring animator and directors, he gave this advice: “Work as hard as you can. Don’t just think about it. Do it, make your movies and never stop!”
I highly recommend “Epic” to all age groups. It’s a thrilling adventure with magic, fantasy and a lot of heart.
The moral: Pay attention to the magical natural world around you, and you will be surprised and delighted by what you find.
Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning film/ entertainment critic & animator, artist, speaker, and entertainment personality. He started writing movie reviews at 8 using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, under the guidance of his mom Dr. Zhu Shen and his 3rd grade teacher Ms. Harris. Perry’s debut on the CBS Evening News in 2009 made him a national sensation. He has been featured extensively on local, national, and international media, including NPR, Fox, CNN, NBC, The Guardian, The China Press, and many more. He has interviewed prominent filmmakers at film festivals, red carpet premieres, and press junkets. He won a prestigious “Excellence in Journalism Award” at the San Diego Press Club in 2010 as its youngest member. Perry currently writes movie reviews for the Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews website with a combined readership of over 2 million worldwide. Perry and his family live in the community of Carmel Valley San Diego.
Dr. Zhu Shen’s love for the movies started when she was a young girl, growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution where watching movies was the only entertainment available to the masses. Her journey to become a filmmaker took a convoluted path. She studied medicine at Peking Union Medical College before coming to the US and earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from University of Colorado, and then an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School. She is a producer of the upcoming documentary feature “Average Joe on the Raw,” about journey into raw food and health. Dr. Shen is also an award-winning biotech executive, author, speaker, China business expert featured on national and trade media including CBS, Fox, Business Week, Pharmaceutical Executive, and more. She has worked at IBM, Bayer, Chiron, Immusol, and is the CEO of BioForesight, consulting on cross-Pacific life science business. *Photos of Perry Chen and Zhu Shen by Brian Bostrom.