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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Epic

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


A slug named Mub, voiced by Aziz Ansari, and MK, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, are seen in the animated movie "Epic."
Though some perilous interludes and the onscreen -- albeit mild -- demise of at least one prominent character might make it too scary for the littlest members of the family, director Chris Wedge's pleasant 3-D animated fantasy "Epic" (Fox) provides appropriate viewing for just about everyone else.

Building on a premise that bears comparison with that of Hayao Miyazaki's far superior -- but also much darker -- fable "Spirited Away" (2001), the collaborative script magically transports its heroine to a miniature, previously unobserved, world within nature. Like the more menacing landscape of Miyazaki's film, this Lilliputian cosmos teems with anthropomorphized animals and plants.

Said heroine, 17-year-old Mary Katherine (voice of Amanda Seyfried) -- M.K. for short -- soon discovers that things are as unsettled at this level of existence as they are in the more familiar surroundings that tower over it. The armed champions of growth and life in the forest, known as Leafmen, are locked in battle with the dark forces of decay, the Boggans.

M.K. finds herself drawn into the conflict when the Leafmen's sovereign, Queen Tara (voice of Beyonce Knowles), entrusts her with a mission that could determine its ultimate outcome. In her quest to fulfill this vital charge, M.K. gains the protection of the Leafmen's gallant leader Ronin (voiced by Colin Farrell) but likewise the enmity of the Boggans' hateful commander Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz).

Another of M.K.'s newfound companions is Ronin's protege, youthful warrior Nod (voice of Josh Hutcherson). Though Nod's freewheeling ways make him an initially unreliable ally for his fellow Leafmen, they don't prevent M.K. from falling for him.

With some of its characters drawn from William Joyce's book "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs" -- Joyce is also credited as one of the film's five scriptwriters -- this cheerful journey into the undergrowth sends innocuous messages about environmental stewardship, teamwork and responsibility. There's also some familial bonding via M.K.'s ultimately appreciative interaction with her stereotypically absent-minded dad, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis).

Details of the plot might hint at some pantheistic overtones; Queen Tara, for example, is portrayed not only as the Leafmen's liege lady but as the source of their life-giving, and life-restoring, power. Still, she's really more Mother Nature than goddess Gaia. As a whole, the personification of natural elements seems intended to excite children's interest and sympathy rather than to impart any nonscriptural belief.

Though the impact of Wedge's picture falls well short of the promise contained in its overly ambitious -- perhaps ill-advised -- title, it does have its strengths as well as flaws. In particular, some lovely imagery compensates for various hit-or-miss attempts at humor.

The film contains potentially frightening clashes and themes involving death. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.

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