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updated: 5/23/2013 9:58 AM

3-D forest tale a kid-friendly animated action fantasy

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  • Grub and Mub, left, join Leafmen protectors Ronin and Nod in a scene from the 3-D animated fantasy "Epic."

      Grub and Mub, left, join Leafmen protectors Ronin and Nod in a scene from the 3-D animated fantasy "Epic."

  • Mub the slug (Aziz Ansar) lets his feelings be known to MK (Amanda Seyfried) in the 3-D animated fantasy "Epic."

      Mub the slug (Aziz Ansar) lets his feelings be known to MK (Amanda Seyfried) in the 3-D animated fantasy "Epic."

  • Video: "Epic" trailer

 
 

"Epic" comes from the creators of the computer-animated comedies "Ice Age" and "Rio," so you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from Chris Wedge's kid-geared, 3-D adventure into the land of fantasy and PG-level conflict.

This standard good-vs-evil opus comes with obligatory action sequences, comic relief figures (in the form of a snail and slug), another ruthless villain with plans of world conquest, plus two adolescents struggling with self-image and estranged daddy issues.

This movie gains major bump-ups from witty visuals and pithy jokes (a bit about a fruitfly's life-span is a classic), Danny Elfman's superbly wrought score -- buttressing the action with aural thrills and celestial spirituality -- and from Christoph Waltz's unnerving vocal hissings as Mandrake, the Lord Voldemort of this story.

It begins when Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), a sensitive 17-year-old who prefers to be addressed as MK, arrives at the secluded home of her nutty professor father Dr. Bomba, who speaks with Jason Sudeikis' hilariously befuddled delivery, but resembles a caricature of actor Edward Norton.

Crazy Dad, accompanied by his three-legged pet dog, has been hanging out in the forest for years, trying to document the existence of Leafmen, little armed people who ride around on hummingbirds.

MK thinks he's nuts, and his obsession with the little people reinforces her feelings that Dad doesn't really care much for her, especially since Mom died.

All that changes when MK finds tiny Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), mortally wounded by an arrow.

This story could have utilized an "Alice in Wonderland" approach where we discover the wondrous miniature world of the Leafmen through MK's eyes.

But no, the screenplay -- attributed to the writing platoon of Wedge, James V. Hart, William Joyce, Dan Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember -- diminishes its own awe-factor by front-loading the history of the Leafmen before MK even knows about them.

The Leafmen, led by the stoic soldier Ronin (Colin Farrell), safeguard the forest from the evil Boggans. (Think of them as the Dark Side of the Forest Force.)

The Boggans are led by the dastardly Mandrake, who intends to inflict decay and death upon the forest. He has an ideal opportunity coming up.

Turns out that every 100 years, Queen Tara must choose a special pod to be her successor. If the selected pod blooms in the light of full moon, the forest stays safe.

But, if the pod blooms in darkness, the forest and the queen's home of Moonhaven will fall under Mandrake's control and start to rot.

MK doesn't really have much of a choice in helping the Leafmen. The dying queen shrinks her down to leaf size and charges MK with protecting her anointed pod.

MK isn't alone. She gets help from the comic duo of Mub the slug (Aziz Ansari) and Grub the snail (Chris O'Dowd), both master punsters and physical comedians with versatile eye sockets.

Then there's the devilishly handsome Nod (Josh Hutcherson), the rebellious youth who wants nothing to do with the Leafmen or Ronin, his uncle and caretaker since the death of his own father.

The romance between Nod and MK remains mostly suggested in "Epic." Along the way, we get positive lessons about self-sacrifice, compassion and stereotyping sandwiched in between spectacular action sequences.

Only one thing moves at a snail's pace in "Epic" -- the snail.

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