With the release of DreamWorks Animation's The Croods this weekend, their first movie being distributed by 20th Century Fox, it made sense that Fox would want to share that love with the animation studio that helped put them on the map as a viable rival for the DreamWorks and Pixars, and that is Greenwich, Connecticut-based Blue Sky Films.
Earlier this week, ComingSoon.net attended a presentation given by 20th Century Fox for Blue Sky Films' upcoming Epic, an animated action-adventure set in a forest environment that involves a battle between the forces of life and the forces of decay.
Before we get to the rundown of what we saw and learned, a quick caveat: We've attended a lot of these footage presentation events over the years and it's hard not to be cynical, because normally it's all about showing the best and funniest scenes or more likely, the scenes that are actually completed enough to show to people. As a film critic, it's hard not to mentally think, "Okay this works, this doesn't work, etc." but that's not really fair to the filmmakers, because much of what is being seen isn't finished and 85% of the time, the final movie will look and work a lot better as a whole. What these presentations are good for, though, is to inform us of the basic story and characters within, which is not something that's always evident from trailers, so if you're taking your kids or nephews or little brothers and sisters to The Croods this weekend and they see the trailer for Epic and want to see it, if nothing else we can now give you some idea what the movie's about.
The movie is directed by Chris Wedge, best known for his work on the "Ice Age" movies, which includes voicing the popular nut-chasing prehistoric squirrel Skrat. Wedge was on hand to present the footage, talking about how Epic marks an evolution for Blue Sky Films both technologically but also as they get away from character-based comedies like Rio and others and more into character-based action-adventure.
Wedge showed a brief teaser from the beginning of the movie, opening in the forest with a female narrator talking about the struggle between the forces of life and decay mentioned in Wedge's intro. Up above the trees, we see a group of birds flying around each other and we then see there's a camera up in the trees capturing this activity and a scientist on the ground--who we learned later is named Bomba, voiced by Jason Sudeikis--starts watching the birds with binoculars and sees something fall out of the sky. He sees that it's a small colorful bird and when he picks it up, he notices that it's wearing a tiny make-shift saddle. We then go back up into the air where we see that there are crows, being ridden by ugly Boggans (more on them later) who are shooting arrows at the bird's rider, a Leaf Man, who has fallen off his ride and is hanging onto a branch for dear life. As he struggles, the little bird rider knocks an acorn out of the branch--a possible nod to Skrat?--which hits the scientist below and then he slips and falls and grabs onto something to stop his fall, which we learn are the eyeballs of a slug, a gag shown in the very first teaser for the movie.
Wedge followed that introductory teaser by talking about the basic characters taking part in this conflict, describing the Leaf Men's "superheroic" characteristics as being able to leap as high as crickets, ride birds and fight using a variety of weapons. The Leaf Men are led by Ronin, voiced by Colin Farrell, and their motto is "Many leaves, one tree," but another younger Leaf Man named Nod, voiced by Josh Hutcherson, has resigned from the Leaf Men because he's not into the discipline required to be one. Their enemies are the Boggans, who come from out of the bark of trees in massive numbers and they're led by Mandrake, the bad guy voiced by Christoph Waltz.
After this introduction, Wedge showed a number of clips while filling in the gaps in the story. The first clip showed the relationship between the scientist Bomba and his estranged teenage daughter Mary Katherine, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, who has been sent to live with him, having heard stories about him going crazy and believing there to be little flying men in the woods. Most of the clip involves him trying to explain his network of cameras in the woods and why he thinks there's a society of little men there, which she clearly doesn't believe. He plays her sounds of bats that he slows down so she can hear talking in between their noises.
The second clip introduced the Leaf Men's queen, Queen Tara, voiced by Beyoncé Knowles, who is able to transfer some of her power to an heir by putting some of her magic into a flower blossom. We see her being carried on a large barge being pulled by dozens of dragonflies as she lands in the marsh, a scene witnessed by two flowers, an impressional little girl and her mother as the two offer exposition explaining what Tara is doing. Tara comes upon Mub and Grub, two slugs voiced by Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd, who guard the blossoms and help Tara pick out the one in which she bequeaths her powers. The two similar-looking slugs have very different personalities as Mub considers himself a ladies' man, similar to Ansari's character on "Parks and Recreation," while Grub wants nothing more than to be a Leaf Man. This clip basically introduced some of the magic of the forest we'll see in the movie, as well as showing off the humor that Mub and Grub bring to the mix.
This was followed by an action clip that takes place directly after Queen Tara finds her blossom as they're ambushed by Mandrake and hundreds of Boggans that peel from out of a tree bark, leading to an extended fight sequence as Tara retreats, and we get our first look at Mandrake as well as a taste of the Danny Elfman score.
The next scene was used to introduce Josh Hutcherson's Nod, a young Leaf Man who has retired and is now involved in bird racing, as we see him in the midst of a race while riding a really fast bird and we get to see some of the other creatures of the forest. (Yeah, this scene was a little too reminiscent of the pod race in Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace.) Although Nod runs into trouble, he ends up winning the race, which gets him into trouble with a frog named Bufo, voiced by recording artist Pitbull, who expected Nod to throw the race. Bufo's "men" start to rough Nod up for not losing the race, but before they can get too far, Ronin shows up and intervenes.
Wedge explained how Mary Katherine runs into the woods looking for her dog and encounters Queen Tara who gives her the blossom that shrinks Mary Katherine down to the size of the Leaf Men. The rest of the movie involves Mary Katherine, Ronin, Nod and the two slugs being chased by Mandrake and the Boggans who want to get their hands on the blossom containing Queen Tara's magic. The next scene showed Mary Katherine and Nod being chased into a burrow by a Boggan where she encounters a mouse that looks cute at first but soon turns fierce and Nod tells her to jump out. When she realizes she can jump really high, she jumps up a second time and hits her head on an overhanging and passes out briefly. When she wakes up, there's a bit of tomfoolery between Nod and Mub, the slug having called dibs on the human girl who has entered their lives. Mub tries to start something with the Leaf Man, calling him "Flat Face," because he doesn't have eyes that can pop out of his head.
The third musician-turned-voice actor in the movie is Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and "American Idol," who voices Nim Galuu, the ringleader of a place where the group has to bring Queen Tara's blossom pod. His character is introduced in a short scene that involves Nim taking the group down into the Rings of Knowledge inside of the tree where he lives. As they travel down, the two slugs ask if everything is being recorded and when Nim says "Yes," they proceed to do a bit of slug shenanigans including bouncing their eyeballs between them like those Newton's Cradle pendulum balls you sometimes see on office desks. There was also another short sequence of Mary Katherine and Nod inside a large cavern, hanging from the eyeballs of the upside-down slugs, as they're being chased by a Boggan. It's pretty clear that the slugs are the scene stealers of the movie since they're offering the most comic relief.
Incidentally, while the idea for Epic was originally developed ten years ago between Wedge and author William Joyce, who formerly worked with Blue Sky on movies like Robots, Wedge told us afterwards that other than the idea of "The Leaf Men," who appeared in one of Joyce's picture books, the movie has branched off into different areas from Joyce's book as he left to focus on the "Rise of the Guardians" series and its animated adaptation.
The roughly 45-minute presentation ended with Wedge showing the brand-new 3D trailer that will be in front of The Croods this weekend, which was comprised of footage from previous trailers with some additional footage from the scenes shown during the presentation. You can watch the new trailer using the player below!