Talking about Balance and the World in Black and White: Why ‘Epic’ is Wrong!

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This topic has been in my mind for a long time and Epic was the final straw for me. I am so tired of these lazy, simple movies set in the world of black and white. This post is also applicable to many animations, superheroes and fantasy movies.

Primer: Epic followed a teenage girl who was accidently pulled into a struggle between tiny people living in the forest. At one end, we got the magnificent Leafmen who protect the forest. And at the other end, we had the Boggans, who were the bad guys like their name suggested.

Foreword:  I don’t usually write about main stream animated features. Nevertheless, I believe that what I am about write is generally relevant for fans of movies, animated feature films and anime. Despite what I’m about to say, I would like to assure you that Epic was a solid film and was certainly not the first or the last film that suffered from the same problems. I simply use this film as a ground to build my statement upon.

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Why was this film made in the first place?

Not to contribute new things to table, that’s for sure.

Everything in Epic has been done to death. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that there was an official checklist of ‘how to make epic fantasy film’. Epic followed every step that other successful films had taken. It was mind-numbingly derivative for me. But I am sure that this will not be a problem for little kids who haven’t watched many films before. I’ll list a few items here.

  • Strong-willed protagonist with dead parents or dysfunctional family.
  • The human protagonist gets pulled into a new, exotic world.
  • The protagonist ends up saving it from destruction.
  • Two people from different worlds fall in love.
  • The demise of a father/mother figure midway into the story.
  • The story involves a magical object that can solve any problem.
  • The good guys are good-looking, dressed in light-colored beautiful clothes and lives in eco-friendly, beautiful place.
  • The bad guys look hideous, dressed in dark or dirty clothes and often associate themselves with ugly-looking animals.
  • Trees, flowers and butterflies are good.
  • Dead trees, withered flowers and scary insects are bad

The list goes on but you get the idea.

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Balance should be inclusive, not exclusive.

This bothers me a lot. The Leafmen fought the Boggans to preserve the balance in forest. At first, this sounded good and green. But on second thought, what was the ‘balance’ they were talking about? The forest that was forever full of green leaves, blooming flowers, pretty insects and animals and clear water was not balance. It was holographic images projected on the wall!

How could they preserve balance when they push away ugly things and things they didn’t like? Didn’t rats, bats and mosquitoes part of the balance? If they refused death, they could never have life. New trees did not sprout from the magical power of the Queen of Leafmen, they sprouted from the dead trees and decaying corpses of the ones which used to live there.

There is no place for ugly creatures in the world of black and white!

Not every film can pull off a Lord-of-the-Rings-success by portraying clearly black and white characters. I was not surprised to see the Leafmen looking pretty and noble (they should have just called them Elves), while the Boggans looked deformed and ugly (they should have just called them Orcs). And what about those poor bats, rats, crows and ugly insects? Where would they go after this? Who would fight for their rights to a place in the forest? No one would because they were born bad. They looked like bad guys so they must be rotten and must be eradicated!

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The desperate need to have the villains

I understand that the good versus evil theme was universal but I think that mindlessly labeling one side as good and the other as bad can be boring and, in many cases, lazy. Epic was very lazy in portraying the villain. I had no idea who the Boggans were, why did they hate green things so much and what did they want from all this. They were just hollow, lazily written, vicious-looking bad guys. They were there simply to be the antagonists who repeatedly said they would destroy everything that looked good. In reality, things do not work that way.

But simple good vs. evil theme is good for the kids, isn’t it?

I can already hear lots of people telling me that this story was made for kids and good-versus-evil theme was good for them. Forgive me for saying this but do kids need ‘villains’ to fight and defeat all the time? Life was hardly about beating bad guys and we did not need bad guys for us to become heroes. The kids needed to know this!

Why can’t films for children create any other kind of challenge for the protagonist to overcome? Is it too much to expect that films for children would have their protagonists prevail without bloodshed? Oh wait, I think I can think of a few unknown, underappreciated studios that dared to do that. Has anyone heard of Pixar or Studio Ghibli? No? You should really check out their works.

Final words: Ultimately, I might have been too harsh on this movie in this post. I directed this post towards films in general, including superheroes and fantasy features.  Epic was not a bad film and you will likely enjoy it as long as you don’t think too much.

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5 responses to “Talking about Balance and the World in Black and White: Why ‘Epic’ is Wrong!

  1. Dualistic thinking in storytelling is lute and exhausted. After all, don’t the “bad guys” think they are doing “good?” You make an excellent point about the skewed ideas of balance pop culture has. Good verses evil does resonate with people, but it tends to be superficial. I tend to empathize with ‘the “villains” more than protagonists in these types of stories.

    You are right that children need lessons on non-violent ways of overcoming problems.

    • Please forgive the mispellings. My Surface tablet likes to use different words than I write.

    • Thank you for the comment :)
      The villains that believe they are doing good are far more interesting, especially when the characters are well established. Grey characters makes a more intriguing story. Fortunately, I see more of those characters lately on both big and small screens.

  2. You raise some great points here. While I can live with bad guys of this kind (if they’re done well enough) in most stories, I can’t stand it when they are featured in stories about ‘balance’.
    Great article.

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