Chris Wedge, the animator behind the Ice Age franchise, behind Robots and now Epic – which sold $42.8 million in tickets over its opening four-day Memorial Day weekend – wants grownups to see his movies. And so, in Epic, which is about a civilization superimposed on ours (“you know, tiny people living in the woods,” he says), the animation director has his leaf men and his super-diminutive teenage heroine acting like samurai warriors, “riding hummingbirds like jet fighter pilots.” It's an action movie.
“Animation tends to be thought of as entertainment for children, much to my chagrin,” Wedge explains. “And to cross over to broader audiences, most animated films have become comedies, so that the adults will think they’re funny and are getting something that the kids don’t get. But I wanted to try a different crossover technique, and that’s action. Spectacle.”
Per the Hollywood animated formula, Epic boasts a diverse all-star lineup of actors, lending their voices to the cartoon characters and critters. Colin Farrell, Beyonce Knowles, Amanda Seyfried, Chris O’Dowd, Christoph Waltz… it’s a pile-up of talent, corraled into the recording studio. But Wedge says there’s an art to matching the right actor with the right character.
“Each character is designed and written before we go out to cast it,” he says. “Casting happens just before we animate. You try to think of the best voice for the role, and for me, because these animated characters are collaborations with designers, animators and the voice actors, I want it to feel like one whole thing – a complete entity. I don’t want you to look at a character and think of, you know, Will Ferrell’s face or whoever’s voice is very distinct.
“I want to get great people in there whose name looks great on a marquee, but also won’t make you think of that guy’s face the whole time. Colin Farrell is our lead leaf men, Amanda Seyfried our heroine, I think her character, her voice and her animation and design is great…. And you can call it stunt casting if you want to , but putting Steven Tyler’s voice in the mix to play this very flamboyant bon vivant in the middle of the movie [he’s Nim, a caterpillar], I thought that fit really well. When people watch it they think, whose voice was that? I mean, if they knew it was Steven, they’d be picturing him with scarves on his microphone screaming his heart out, but it just happens that it’s a great character voice, if you ask me.”
And Beyonce Knowles as Tara, Epic's faerie queen?
“We’re used to hearing her singing voice, obviously,” Wedge notes. “If somebody says Beyonce, you think of Sparkle and “Love on Top” and big anthems – and this is her speaking voice, it’s beautiful.”