In the just-opened animated adventure film, “Epic,” a teenage girl named Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) has effectively been abandoned. She arrives in the country to reconnect with her harebrained dad (Jason Sudeikis), a nerdy scientist obsessed with finding a woodland kingdom of miniature creatures. Grieving the loss of her mother, Mary Katherine, or “M.K.,” needs her father more than ever. But her dad’s belief in a secret world makes him all the more distant.
Naturally, M.K.’s ideas about magical realms are about to change. Stumbling into the woods, she snatches what looks like a glimmering leaf as it drifts down from the trees. The “pod” glows brighter in her hands, and then, KA-POW! our heroine is transported (and shrunk) to the hidden land of the Leafmen. There, she finds her purpose among a race of tiny people who, armed with bows and swords and mounted on sparrows and hummingbirds, protect the forest from the baddies in, yes, an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil.
Movies about worlds disconnected from our own are commonplace. A science fiction and fantasy narrative that glides along the “Star Wars” to “The Lord of the Rings” continuum.
“Epic” belongs to a different but equally longstanding tradition of fiction that bridges our world to other realms. Via some gateway, a journey is made to a kind of Neverland or Narnia. The trope is as old and dark as the burrow in “Alice in Wonderland” and Dorothy’s twister in “The Wizard of Oz.” You can follow these tunnels from “Labyrinth” to “Pan’s Labyrinth,” through “Harry Potter” and “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” and beyond to every story that maps that liminal space between us and some parallel place.