When Mary Katherine (who these days prefers M.K.) first steps back into her dad’s old cluttered house, she isn’t very hopeful that things will go well between them. The teen hasn’t seen much of her dad since her parents went their separate ways years before. And, frankly, he’s a little nutty—obsessed with this idea that a kingdom of small people exists somewhere in the forest.
I mean, those kinds of delusional ideas are what drove her mom away from the guy in the first place. But, well, since Mom recently passed away, M.K. feels she needs to at least try to give things a chance with her dad. For a little while anyway. After that, she can take care of herself if she has to.
It’s worse than she thinks. When Dad finally comes running in from outside, he doesn’t even notice she’s arrived. And when he does spot her, all he can talk about is something that one of the dozens of cameras he’s scattered throughout the forest has picked up—something about tiny soldiers riding on the backs of hummingbirds.
They move her things into her old room, and she tries to have a sane, reasonable conversation. But this man who gave her life can’t stop chattering about his breakthrough after years of research. This could be my big chance, he says. M.K. bristles. “You’re missing a chance right now,” she shoots in his direction. “Are you listening?” But by then he’s already gathered his equipment and sprinted off, the screen door slamming behind him.
Well, she tried.
M.K. grabs her bag and starts thinking about her next step. She’ll call the cab back. Head to the airport. Stop their old, nearly blind dog, Ozzie, from slipping through the front door and charging out into the woods. What! No! Get back here, you crazy little mutt!
As she hikes out after the animal, she mutters to herself, “This is just great, just great …”
That’s when she spots it. She’s thinking it, but when she looks closer, it turns out to be a … she. And she looks for all the world like a teeny, tiny woman lying on the ground. A woman with a little thorn sticking out of her side. Is she asking for help? M.K. kneels down on the ground for a better look … and that’s when the itty-bitty creature tosses some sort of glowing thing right at her.
Instinctively M.K. snatches the glowing pod out of the air … and shrinks.
M.K. shrinks down to the size of a large grasshopper. And she quickly realizes that her dad was right about his miniature people theories. Wow! He’s not so nutty after all! It’s a realization that helps eventually lead the two of them to reconciliation, which in turn leads them to realize how much they love and need each other. In fact, for all of his hardheaded single-mindedness, Dad says he had wanted to reconcile with M.K.’s mom as well. “I always hoped that if I proved it to her, she would … you know,” he tells his daughter.
Family ties are also upheld and applauded within the ranks of the Leafmen, one of two primary “races” or “people groups” living in the crevices of the forest. When Ronin, a Leafman leader, lost a good friend in a battle, he determined to raise that man’s son, Nod, as his own. Their relationship is strained at times, but it becomes evident that they respect and love each other—even if they have a hard time saying that out loud. The forest royal, Queen Tara, is willing to endanger herself to help save even the least of her forest people. And when M.K. gets to know these gentle yet brave individuals, she too puts her life on the line to preserve their magical world from extinction.
The movie also promotes a (light) positive message about being environmentally friendly. Even though the forest’s health is depicted as a magical struggle between good guy Leafmen and rot-loving Boggans, it’s obvious that a healthy, growing forest benefits everyone. And those good vs. evil struggles can also be seen as something of a life lesson: Being upright, heroic and self-sacrificial for the sake of one and all is applauded. “Many leaves, one tree,” say the Leafmen. “We’re all individuals, but we’re still connected.”
There’s one more way this conflict can be seen, and it’s through spiritual eyes. The good, wholesome Leafmen fighting the evil, raunchy Boggans is a tiny picture of the grand yet invisible war between good and evil in our own world: God’s goodness vs. Satan’s darkness. Opening the door to that idea is something M.K.’s dad says before his little girl gets even littler: “Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
When M.K. does finally see what’s actually there, she find that the miniaturized forest kingdom of Moonhaven is a magical place. Queen Tara is a mini-Mother Nature type who can wave her hand and cause things to grow. In fact, it’s her power that is said to keep the forest green and the decay of the opposing Boggans at bay. The evil rat-skin-wearing Mandrake is her magical opposite. With his staff, he can touch things and cause them to wither and turn to dust.
When Queen Tara dies from her wounds, she dematerializes and her essence swirls skyward. Later we see her ghostly image appear when the small pod she “blessed” blooms into a flower. Then a magical sparkle settles on a new queen.
One of her subjects, a history-keeping caterpillar called Nim, meanwhile, is thought by many to hold certain powers over the future. But he admits that he’s only a record keeper and not a wizard of any sort. “The scrolls don’t tell the future,” Nim says. “They only guide us with the knowledge of the past.”
M.K. and Nod briefly kiss.
There are a number of combat-heavy conflicts between the Leafmen and the Boggans. Flurries of slashing tiny swords and impaling arrows fell foes by the score. Usually we don’t see the gory results, but one death does sort of stand out: A Boggan falls off his soaring bird mount and splats in a green smear on a human windshield, just like a bug.
When M.K. shrinks down into the diminutive world of the forest creatures, she comes to realize that cute and cuddly mice and chipmunks (and even her own slobbering dog Ozzie) can be roaring, large-toothed beasties to be wary of. The Boggans do plenty of roaring as well. And at one point dozens of them swarm in to pile on Ronin, giving the impression that he has fallen under the weight of their number. (He shows up later with bruises on his face.) Nod is grabbed by a couple of bug thugs and punched in the stomach several times.
At one point Dad attempts to vacuum up a tiny person … and when he realizes that he’s captured his miniaturized daughter, he faints and thumps his head on a table. He drops the glass jar M.K. is trapped in, and it breaks when it hits the floor. She’s OK, just as she and her new cohorts are almost always OK when they fall from great heights. We also see some slapstick-style violence, eye-pokes, pushes, etc.
There are one or two uses of “gosh” and a “heck.” A little silly name-calling features the words “jerk,” “jelly-butt,” “flat-face” and “idiot.”
At a gathering of the forest people and insects, a fruit fly holds a tankard of an undefined beverage. Nim jokes, “It’s happy hour at Nim’s!”
Nod makes quite a bit of fun of the huge humans … before he learns that M.K. is one. To comically illustrate the short lifespan of a fruit fly, a little insect sprints from childhood to full maturity to crumbling old age and death in a matter of seconds. Slime and blubber get some screen time thanks to the snail and the slug.
With a title like Epic, you might think that this film is a large, sweeping animated movie adventure. But, in truth, it’s far more Antz or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids than it is Lawrence of Arabia.
Based loosely on William Joyce’s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, this is a good-vs.-evil fairy tale that clothes itself in environmental concerns. It’s a cute story about tiny warriors hidden from human eyes who battle to keep a forest green while pushing back the crusty forces of mold and decay.
Blue Sky Studios, the production company behind Rio and the Ice Age films, has injected the pic with lots of vibrant color and swooping action. Characters are well-voiced. And light lessons revolving around family and reconciliation are earnest. Of course there are bug-sized battles aplenty, and even a number of snarling villains. But graphic or scary or troubling and taut this film is not. And by the time the dust settles and the happy ending blooms, kids will likely be thinking of little more than hummingbird wings and the colors of spring. Oh, and tiny playroom-size epic adventures of their own!
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.