Another kids’ animation, another battle between good and evil. Not unexpected on the eve of the holidays, I grant you. What’s also becoming increasingly familiar, though, is the separation of death from sadness, as Hollywood spins another modern fairy tale.
Epic introduces viewers to troubled teen, M.K., better known to her parents as Mary Katherine and to us as actress Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables). On the death of her mother, M.K. is sent to live with her estranged father Professor Bomba. Her dad is convinced the natural world is inhabited by tiny soldiers; his daughter is not. But M.K. has her eyes opened when she stumbles into the presence of Beyoncé … er... Tara, Queen of the Leafmen. Her miniature men-at-arms are responsible for protecting the life force of the forest and their chief enemy is Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), an agent of decay. The dying queen shrinks M.K. to her own size and gives the teenager a seedpod containing the life force of her kingdom. If Mandrake can cause the pod to bloom in darkness it will spell the end for this leafy green world. But if M.K. can ensure it opens under the light of the moon, then order will again be restored.
Epic has as many themes as its title suggests. M.K. walks the path from adolescence to adulthood. Alongside her, the independent Leafman Nod discovers the value of teamwork. The laid-back slug Mub and the hopeful snail Grub provide us with a pair of ‘the least likely heroes’. Even M.K.’s father supplies a sub-plot about the importance of persevering with your dreams. It’s not surprising Epic had five screenwriters, and they all seem to have brought their favourite storyline. However the overarching theme is the mystic balance undergirding our marvelous, natural world. Ladies and gentlemen, let me invite the real star to the stage: neo-paganism.
The benchmark beliefs of neo-pagans are animism and pantheism. Animism suggests every natural element has a spirit, and as the viewer’s eye tracks across Queen Tara’s kingdom we’re introduced to flower and insect-like sprites who populate the forest. Pantheism teaches that if there is a ‘god’ then it’s the divine universe, of which we’re all a part. So, Ronin, the leader of the Leafman explains, “Many leaves; one tree. We’re all individuals but were still connected.”
There’s nothing new about ecological themes in kids’ films – The Lion King and Wall-E – nor the suggestion that rocks and plants have mystic personalities – Pocahontas and FernGully. But the morals of these stories seldom rise above the need to keep all elements in balance. So in Epic, Mandrake isn’t evil because he brings death, but because he wants to bring it to everything:
“All in the name of balance – I’m sick of balance! Today we’ll show them that you just can’t stop the rot.”
Rather than death being presented as the final result of our rebellion against God, it’s recast as a sad but natural process. When Queen Tara dies, the wise glowworm Nim Galuu tells MK her tears are taking her in the wrong direction:
“I know you’re sad. I’m sad too. But Tara wouldn’t want us to mourn. She’d want us to celebrate her life – the life of the forest.”
But this is the saddest conclusion, because when we reduce death to a stage in the circle of life, we ignore the cancer at the heart of creation and so our need for salvation. God never meant death to be part of life. It’s not even sensitive to kids’ feelings to say so, because it only takes the passing of one friend to demonstrate the paucity of Galuu’s positivism. No, there’s only one way to remove death’s sting and that’s by providing a path to everlasting life, naturally through the cross of Christ.
Watching Epic with your kids
Epic is a safe watch for primary school kids with all the expected good guy / bad guy / princess stereotypes. But you can mine it for something better by asking one of the following:
- Why was Mandrake bad?
- Would you be happy in a world where good and evil were evenly balanced?
- What does God promise to do with evil?