Known for their grandiose storytelling and visual effects in “Ice Age” and “Rio,” Blue Sky Studios brings a world unlike any we’ve seen before in the 3D wonder “Epic.”
In “Epic,” MK (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) returns to her childhood home and reconnects with his father Prof. Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) who believes that out there are unseen people who live in the woods. She finally believes when she is magically transformed into the size of the people his father had been looking for all his life. Transported into the magical world of Leafmen where soldiers live to protect the forest, MK meets Nod (Josh Hutcherson), Ronin (Colin Farell) and Queen Tara (Beyonce). Together, she must unite with them in order to save the forest against the evil Boggans led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz).
The filmmakers envisioned the Boggans as the creators of decay in the natural world. Wedge explains: “You might take a walk in the woods or in a park, and see something that looks like a cancerous knob growing out of a tree. That’s the handiwork of the Boggans.” Their capital of decomposition is called Wrathwood, whose dark, twisty and claustrophobic tunnels provide a sharp contrast to Moonhaven’s openness and light.
The chief force behind the darkness and destruction is the Boggans’ ruler, Mandrake. Gifted, or cursed, with the ability to bring destruction to anything he touches, Mandrake and his Boggan minions are the arch-nemeses of the Leafmen. Mandrake is tired of hiding in the shadows, and with his son Dagda (played by Blake Anderson) by his side, he plans the ultimate revenge – to claim the forest he believes should have always been his.
As portrayed by two-time Academy Award®-winning actor Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds), Mandrake is devious, dangerous, erudite, droll, and ironic. His eloquent and sharp musings and threats are complemented by his vampire-like appearance. He even sports a bat cape, “like the Native Americans wore buffalo skins,” says Wedge. “They would conquer the soul of the animal and wear its skin, and Mandrake does the same” with the nocturnal and feared rodents. Bats are also the Boggans’ preferred mode of transport.
Wedge embraced the opportunity to work with Waltz, and got more collaboration than he expected when the director read lines opposite Waltz during recording sessions. “Christoph wanted to play the scenes at all times, so our podiums were set up across from each other. He’d perform Mandrake, and I’d read whichever character he was playing against. Every time I’d look up from my script page, there was Christoph staring me down, in true Mandrake style. He was in the scene completely. It was intimidating and thrilling.”
If Queen Tara and the Leafmen embody the forces of light, and Mandrake and the Boggans the forces of darkness, then the character Bufo straddles both worlds. A tough-guy toad, Bufo is a wheeler and dealer who plays all the angles: he profits no matter which side wins or loses.
In yet another example of inventive casting, rapper/singer/songwriter Pitbull is Bufo. “We were looking for a certain archetype, and asked ourselves, where do you go?” Wedge explains. “Well, you don’t go to the normal field of actors; you go to musical artists. Pitbull brings something special to the role.”
Pitbull, whose current hit (performed with Christina Aguilera) is “Feel this Moment,” likens musicianship to the experience of a team of animators, designers and actor joining forces to create a film character. “When I make records I can hear a beat and know exactly what I’m going do and how it’s going to come about,” he explains. “So for an animator to see me and my expressions and translate those to a character…that’s amazing.”
“Epic” (3D) opens May 24 in theaters from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.