At the movies

Chris Wedge talks directing ‘Epic’

 

In Epic, opening Friday, Miami’s own Pitbull plays a character that always makes money, no matter the situation.

Sound familiar?

“I didn’t think of anybody else for that role, to be honest,” director Chris Wedge said from (appropriately) the Epic hotel in downtown Miami.

“Mr. Worldwide” plays Bufo, a smooth-talking, chain-wearing toad that weaves his way in and out of trouble en route to a profit.

“When we talked a little bit about it, he said something like, ‘Oh, man, you got to get in a zone. I get it. You got to get in a zone,’ and yeah, that’s exactly it,” said Wedge, who also directed the animated Ice Age hits.

Epic features a civilization of tiny people, the Leafmen, and their counterparts, the Boggans, as they struggle over control of a lush forest. M.K., played by Amanda Seyfried, is thrown into the mix after she stumbles into this world that her father ( Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis), has spent his whole life researching.

The film also features the voices of NBC’s Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari, Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

“When it came to some of the personalities that may be larger than life, those were characters that I wanted to be larger than life,” said Wedge, who won an Academy Award for the animated short Bunny in 1998.

Still, finding the right mix of people proved to be a challenge.

“There’s so much riding on the casting,” he said. “I try and meld the voice with the character design so that it brings the character to life but doesn’t pull you out of the movie.”

Singer Beyoncé Knowles. voices the character of Tara, queen of the forest. Her golden pipes make the character, not the other way around.

“That’s not a mistake,” Wedge said. “We wouldn’t have done it if her speaking voice did not have as much presence and gravity as it does.”

The movie was inspired by an art exhibition catalog featuring Victorian fairy paintings that depicted renderings of “worlds that could be out there,” Wedge said. Epic executive producer William Joyce ( Rolie Polie Olie) showed Wedge the catalog. The concept of the Leafmen was inspired by Joyce’s 2001 picture book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.

“I thought, ‘Well there’s the world we go to right there,’ ” Wedge said. “Then it was up to us to create an original story that backed into that world.”

This was not an easy task by any means: The filmmakers spent about 10 years getting everything right.

The cast meshes so well that some kids didn’t even recognize Pitbull.

“I talked to some kids and they asked, ‘Which character was Pitbull?’ I said, ‘Seriously, you couldn’t tell?’ ” Wedge said, laughing. “To me, that’s good.”

Anthony Cave

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