Of course the notion of good versus evil is done to breaking point, and even more so in family animations, to try and spark that idea to children about being on the good side, this 2013 feature is no exception, drafting in the well used handbook of wrongdoers trying to usurp a kind leader and her followers. The predictable storytelling is no issue when a film looks as stunning as this one does.
Travelling to visit and stay with her father, M.K (Amanda Seyfried) is nearly out the door in the first day as she realises her dad is still obsessed with the idea that the forest is full of little people living there. On the same day, the queen of the forest (Beyonce Knowles) is about to pick the heir when Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his baddies show up. M.K ends up the size of an ant as she tries to help Nod and Ronin (Josh Hutcherson and Colin Farrell) keep the heir protected and save the forest from rotting doom.
Written by Chris Wedge, James V. Hart and William Joyce, the story is nothing new or stirring but for young audiences the balance of nasty foes battling loyal and nice heroes is more than enough. There’s nothing overly grand to keep older audience goers amused or entertained in terms of writing but the story can’t be bemoaned as it does the job it’s doing well and this nature setting is a fine setting for the plot.
Every scene and moment with sequences or character motives, works in the building of the plot, even a brief moment with a Pitbull voiced frog has its reasoning for continuing the narrative. Chris Wedge directs this fantasy adventure film with a clear eye for microscopic detail, as if he too is zooming in on the greenery like M.K’s dad. The scenes work and though you know where moments may be going it doesn’t spoil the wonder of seeing it happen. It’s still got a fine level of suspense in trying to keep the forest warriors one step ahead of Mandrake and his cronies and Wedge demonstrates this good/evil back and forth solidly.
Blue Sky Studios are most known for their ‘Ice Age’ outings but these rises above in terms of visuals. It fails to mirror in terms of comedy and zaniness but the team of animators have lovingly crafted a gorgeous movie. The lush green palette runs through as a near constant colour for good and hope, making the gnarled blackened images that much worse. Bright purples, reds and blues aid the rainbow like world of living flowers and fungi folk and the general look of these dandelion people or the leaf-men is exquisite. The detail of this forest floor world and how M.K sees it is beautiful. Animation has never felt so crisp and perfectly designed.
It’s a shame then that a few well ridden practices of plot devices weigh down what could have been a very original bold and interesting film. Also, the happy ending is clear from a mile off, the estranged parent-child routine is tired now too and cliched sidekick characters aiming for laughs feels like a slimy stretch from the frankly irritating slug and snail duo. It’s a title that fails to live up to expectations as the film is not epic, it’s incredible at times and fun but certainly not epic.
Colin Farrell gifts the film that magical sort of lilt in his Irish accent. This helps further with Danny Elfman’s score that at times sounds like a tune of folklore from the Emerald Isle. Bouncy and jovial his music brings that element of fantastical frolic to proceedings. Farrell can be stern and gruff when he needs to be too. Amanda Seyfried has that enjoying pleasure of wonder in her voice recording, she sounds innocent and sweet but confident in herself and what she needs to do in the story. Josh Hutcherson steps up from the mopey Peeta angle and is jerky but likable as the gallivanting and cocksure Nod. Beyonce is the queen and that says it all as a fun little joke at her musical icon status. Jason Sudeikis sounds skittish and eccentric as the forest mad dad, though when he needs to lower this for attempts in patching up family problems he does so well. Christoph Waltz will always be the man to go to for villainous roles and this movie is no exception. That delicious snarl in the words he delivers makes for a charismatic yet clearly evil character.
A thinly constructed story built around the less than original notions of good and bad, family fractures and young romances but look more closely and marvel in the sheer bright fluidity of the animation. A joy to behold.