A war of good vs. evil unfolds in a miniature, green world populated by insect-like beings: it’s a computer animated 3D adventure that promises to be, well… Epic. Loosely based on William Joyce’s 1996 picture book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, the new animated movie from Blue Sky Studios and Twentieth Century Fox Animation features the voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, and Beyoncé Knowles. The movie is directed by Chris Wedge (the Ice Age franchise, which has grossed over $700 million domestically) and premieres on May 24. Joyce, who teamed with Wedge on Robots (2005), was a producer for the film and contributed to the screenplay.
The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs is about a small but powerful army of elfin insects that square off against a wicked Spider Queen to protect their garden. The film expands significantly on that storyline by restaging the action in a hidden forest land called Moonhaven and introducing a teenage protagonist. Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her father, a professor and anthropologist of a kind, who studies a legion of forest warriors, the Leaf Men. When her father disappears, Mary goes looking for him, magically shrinks in size, and enters the Leaf Men’s world, which is ruled by a princess with a wicked set of pipes (Knowles, naturally). Mary joins in the Leaf Men’s fight against a treacherous species known as the Boggans (picture a poodle moth with fangs, on a really bad hair day).
‘Epic’: A Storied Past
Like many of William Joyce’s projects, Epic has evolved through several incarnations. Plans for a film based on Joyce’s picture book were first announced in 2006. The project was first titled Leaf Men and though it was initially slated to be released by Fox Animation and directed by Chris Wedge, the property was briefly turned over to Pixar. Before the deal was finalized, Fox reclaimed the rights and the film was greenlit in 2009.
It’s certainly not the first of Joyce’s books to wing its way to the big screen, and Joyce has typically played a significant role in the creative process, often working alongside animators. In the course of his career, Joyce has written more than 50 books and also cofounded the multimedia company Moonbot Studios. Accolades for Joyce’s page and screen efforts have been plentiful, including a 2012 Academy Award for his animated short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore; S&S/Atheneum published Joyce’s picture book version of that story a few months after the Oscar win.
Most recently, DreamWorks Animation teamed with director Peter Ramsey to adapt Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood series of picture and chapter books into a 3D animated film. The book series explores the lives and origins of such childhood legends as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Reviews of the film were not altogether positive and ticket sales for the Thanksgiving release were disappointing, leaving the production team and movie biz aficionados alike combing for possible explanations. But Joyce soldiers on, with numerous projects on the horizon: the next title in his Guardians of Childhood book series, The Sandman and the War of Dreams, releases on October 1, and a new picture book, The Mischievians, arrives on October 22.
HarperCollins, Joyce’s publisher for The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, welcomes the Epic premiere with a five-book tie-in program. It includes two 8x8 storybooks: Epic: Attack of the Boggans and Epic: Welcome to Moonhaven; two readers, Epic: M.K. Saves the Day and Epic: Meet the Leaf Men; and Epic: The Junior Novel. Coming from Titan Books on April 23 is The Art of Epic by Tara Bennett. The keepsake volume offers an in-depth look at the concept art, character sketches, and animation from the movie. Barron's has also released two sticker book tie-ins, and .
Whether the animated fantasy adventure lives up to its title remains to be seen. In the meantime, there can be no doubt that Joyce remains in his element, bringing singular, mythological realms to life, whether in print or on screen. And this time, it’s a world that viewers may easily imagine discovering in their own backyards.