When you make the decision to call your 3-D animated feature “Epic,” you obviously put some pressure on yourself. Alas, Blue Sky Studios, the outfit behind “Ice Age” and “Rio,” isn’t entirely up to the challenge. Its fantastical great-outdoors adventure is certainly very pretty to look at, and has a general agreeability about it. But the movie would need to engage us far more powerfully for that hyperbolic title to fit.
Director (and Blue Sky cofounder) Chris Wedge and a gaggle of writers take the seed of their story from “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs,” a picture book by William Joyce, whose work was also adapted in “Rise of the Guardians.” But the film really doesn’t make use of the book’s visuals, gentleness, or anything beyond the rough concept of tiny nature warriors fighting the good fight against creepy-crawlies we’d want to smoosh.
“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” furnishes the more prevalent narrative cues as we meet M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), a teen who loses her mom, goes to live with her absent-minded-naturalist dad (Jason Sudeikis), and winds up magically miniaturized. She finds herself in a veritable enchanted forest filled with greenery-clad micro-soldiers (notably Josh Hutcherson and Colin Farrell) heroically patrolling on hummingbirds. The landscape also includes cheery citizenry who’ll wear, say, dandelion fluff for hats (great gag); a goofball slug-and-snail duo (Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd); and a beneficent royal goddess (Beyoncé) who walks on water (or lily pads, anyway).
But danger lurks. If a seed pod the queen has selected to morph into her heir doesn’t arrive at the appointed place at the appointed hour, the Leaf Men’s land will have no protection from villainous Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). Hard to tell what genus of nasty he’s supposed to be — nightshade-mantis mutant hybrid? — but his moniker, the bat hide he wears, and his decay-spreading touch all spell trouble.
It’s a shame it doesn’t add up to more. The movie gives as much weight to routine budding-romance scenes between M.K. and Hutcherson’s young buck as it does to M.K.’s relationship with her father, even though that’s the story thread with unique potential. (Turns out that well before her passing, Mom left Dad, because she understandably figured all his blather about Leaf Men was nuts.) Two-time Oscar winner Waltz noticeably misses the crackle of Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue. And while you don’t even have to be an Ansari indulger to laugh at Mub the slug’s eyestalk humor, you’ll likely just shrug at the flat material Steven Tyler gets as a caterpillar sage in a Technicolor dreamcoat. Just one more story element that’s crafted affectionately, but not memorably.