Chris Wedge, the Oscar-winning animation whiz behind 2002's original Ice Age and 2005's Robots, wanted to go big with his next directing project.
But with a tiny difference.
While the action in next summer's Epic lives up to its title, the cast of forest dwellers who are engaged in a massive clash between good and evil are wee enough to make Hobbits look positively Amazonian.
Many of the characters are borrowed from William Joyce's 1996 book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs. But much of the plot has been re-configured and represents a new direction for Blue Sky Studios, the animation house owned by 20th Century Fox and co-founded by Wedge.
"This film is an evolution for us," he says. "In the technology, in what we put on screen and in the storytelling. It has the fun character comedy and depth of emotion that are found in the Ice Age films. But while Bill wrote a wonderful book, it is a quaint story. We wanted to make a gigantic action-adventure movie."
Epic's world, according to Wedge, "is one we may not know exists but it surrounds us. There is a battle going between the forces of life and the forces of decay. " Who knew that our tree-shaded backyards are possibly rife with samurai known as Leafmen, who zip around atop hummingbirds? Or creepy crawlies who sound like comic actors Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation) and Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) as they lurk beneath logs?
Also joining the fight is a skeptical teen girl named Mary Katherine (the voice of Amanda Seyfried from Dear John and Mamma Mia!) who is magically drawn into the miniature universe and becomes an unwilling participant.
For Josh Hutcherson, best known as Peeta in The Hunger Games series, providing the voice of Leafman Nod was a dream come true -- especially since he grew up loving such outdoorsy Disney animated classics as The Lion King and Pocahontas.
"I thought it would be cool to be in on the ground floor of an animated film over the course of several months," says Hutcherson, whose previous brushes with the medium include dubbing a voice for the English version of the Japanese import Howl's Moving Castle and motion-capture body work for The Polar Express. "You have more creative control over the character than in a live-action film. I was surprised by how much freedom I was given."
He describes his fellow Leafmen, whose foliage armor could double as a tasty salad, as protectors of Mother Nature. "They keep her alive and strong." But, much like Peeta, "Nod is a reluctant warrior. " However, he is brave enough to strike up a relationship with headstrong Mary Katherine -- MK for short.
When a teaser trailer was released last summer, there was much online speculation about whether Epic was similar to other environmentally aware movies, such as 1992's Ferngully: The Last Rainforest or even 2009's Avatar. Or if it was reminiscent of such insect-infested animated fare as 1998's Antz and A Bug's Life or 2006's The Ant Bully.
Wedge emits a sound of frustration, not unlike the ones he provides as the voice of that acorn-craving Ice Age mascot Scrat.
"I hate to associate it with other movies," he says, before allowing two comparisons. "It is adventure on the scale of Star Wars. And it does immerse the audience completely in a world like Avatar. But it has its own personality."