Epic, the latest animated movie from the makers of Rio and Ice Age, opens in British cinemas this month and offers a snails-eye view of the mysterious and magical world of the forest. Portraying the age old story of good versus evil, Epic explores the underground world through the eyes of MK, a teenage girl who is shrunk to the size of a fairy and thrown into the forest that surrounds her father's home. Here she hooks up with a band of sprite warriors and becomes embroiled in a war to save their precious land from the evil Boggans who are intent on destroying it. But of course, the forest can be a romantic place too and before too long MK is wooed by Nod, a handsome renegade leafman who rides a hummingbird like a stallion, and together they save the world. Think of it as Avatar meets The Borrowers with a bit of FernGully thrown in for good measure.
Ever since Enid Blyton described the Enchanted Wood in her Magic Faraway Tree series, forests and woodlands have been a source of mystery and wonder for children of all ages. If a film involves a mythical creature, you can bet your bottom dollar it lives in a forest. From Pixie Hollow, the woodland home of the fairies in Disney's Tinkerbell films to the murky swamps and hollowed out tree stumps in Shrek, the undisputed king of the fairytales. A forest's versatile facets have made it a favoured location of film directors the world over.
Don't forget to look up
When Disney-Pixar launched the film, Brave, last year children (and adults) were immediately drawn in by the film's magical forest scenes. Set in the Scottish highlands, the woodland takes on a misty, ethereal appeal inspiring our curiosity as we follow the feisty Princess Merida through the forest in search of a witch's cavern in a bid to change her destiny.
On the opposite side of the world, in the rainforests of Australia, a tiny fairy community faces death and destruction when an evil empire attempts to raze their home in FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Here the forest is portrayed as a place to protect, a home to defend from immoral outside influences. Of course, good always overcomes evil on the silver screen, the baddies are defeated, the forest is saved and Mother Nature prevails once more.
However, they are not always the subject of a battle. In the whimsical world of Winnie the Pooh the woods are seen as a place brimming with adventure and fun and, of course, a never-ending supply of honey. Numerous films aimed at young children are set in the animated world of the forest. Here film-makers depict it as another world inhabited by talking animals, pixies and fairies who live in teeny tiny conker houses and make umbrellas from buttercups.
But of course, it's not all fairies and ogres. Forests can be portrayed as dark forces of evil like in the terrifying Blair Witch Project or the Evil Dead where the trees literally come alive. However, more often than not the forest is seen as a place of safety, a strong leafy knight who protects its inhabitants from external danger. Look at Snow White, who turned to the forest to escape the evil queen only to be saved by a troop of friendly dwarves who look after her in return for a spot of light housekeeping.
Spend Halloween in the forest
In the legendary 1991 film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Kevin Costner and his band of merry men build a village in the leafy, hallowed depths of Sherwood Forest. With look-outs, catapults and traps, their woodland home becomes a fantastical creation built to protect the community from the wrath of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Did You Know?
Sean Connery was paid $250,000 for his 30 second cameo of King Richard in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He generously donated his fee to charity
In some cinematic masterpieces, such as ET: The Extra Terrestrial, the forest is used as a means of escape. When being chased by the FBI, the image of Elliott powering through the forest on his bike to get ET home is, without a doubt, one of the film's most dramatic scenes.
Of course, away from the tell-tale signs of modern technology, a forest location can be the ideal backdrop which spans time zones, countries and even planets as seen in many a sci-fi movie. Who can forget the famous ewok chase scene through the forest of Endor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi?
With its telescopic trees, dark, leafy canopy and scuffling undergrowth, in every country in the world the forest is seen as a land of legend and mystery. So whether it's a friend, an enemy or merely a means of escape, on celluloid the forest still proves to be a versatile location that never fails to surprise.
Did You Know?
Walt Disney rejected a whole host of names for Snow White's seven dwarves in his 1937 animated film including Blabby, Nifty, Gloomy and Awful.
Top Five Films Scenes set in a forest
1. When Elliott and ET cycle through the forest and fly past a full moon it is an iconic moment in cinematic history.
2. A million hearts raced when Robin fired a slow-motion arrow through Sherwood Forest in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
3. One of the weirdest ever chase scenes is an ewok on a speeder bike being chased through the forest by stormtroopers in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
4. As fight scenes go the treetop battle in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the most beautiful.
5. Who can forget the heart-wrenching roar of Treebeard when he sees his beloved forest destroyed in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
By Tracey Davies