Dreamworks Animation always seems to play second banana to the juggernaut known as Pixar. It’s not surprising that Katzenberg and company would be drawn to Megamind, the story of an ingenious protagonist forced to constantly live in the shadow of a more popular rival.
Will Ferrell heads the all-star cast as the titular Megamind, a blue-skinned, cranially enhanced supervillain who has plagued Metro City for years. The one person who stands in the way of Megamind’s quest for world domination is the heroic and square-jawed Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Their feud has been raging since they were babies. On a far away planet, a couple launches their infant son towards the Earth in a rocketship shortly before a collapsing star destroys their solar system. Meanwhile, another couple on a nearby planet has the same idea. Baby Metro Man lands safe and sound in an opulent mansion where he is raised by loving parents. Baby Megamind’s ship is knocked off course and lands in a prison yard. There, the inmates teach the young lad their own twisted sense of right and wrong. Their rivalry extended to grade school as young Metro Man is praised by his classmates and teacher while young Megamind gets quiet time in the corner due to his malfunctioning inventions.
Cut to present day where Metro Man is honored by Metro City with the grand opening of a Metro Man museum. The festivities are interrupted when Megamind once again abducts news reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). As the Lois Lane of the story, she’s grown a blasé attitude to playing the damsel in distress when she knows Megamind always loses. That is, until now. Megamind traps Metro Man inside a dome made out of copper, which turns out to be the superhero’s one weakness. A death ray fires from above and blasts Metro Man into smithereens.
Along with his right-hand fish, Minion (David Cross), a talking piranha who moves about in a robotic gorilla suit, Megamind struts through the streets of Metro City to the tune of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” However, his elation turns into a melancholy funk when he realizes evil isn’t as much fun without someone to challenge him. Megamind devises a scheme to create a new costumed do-gooder to replace Metro Man. The plan goes predictably awry after Roxanne’s goofball cameraman, Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill), is given superpowers. Now known as Titan (though he misspells it as ‘Tighten’), Hal decides that destroying the city would be way more cool. Thus, Megamind is forced into the unfamiliar territory of playing the good guy.
Just as Shrek had a fractured take on fairy tales, Megamind plays fast and loose with the conventions of the superhero genre. Director Tom McGrath (Madagascar) and screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons crib the Superman mythos frequently, from the opening origin sequence to the archetypes of the main characters. Ferrell even gets to riff on Marlon Brando as Jor-El when he dons a holographic disguise to play Tighten’s “Space Dad.” The disguise looks more like Ted Kennedy with a pompadour than it does the late-Brando though. Comic book heroes aren’t the only ones to get jabbed as the writers sprinkle plenty of pop culture references into the film. Some are obscure (Minion’s body is meant to evoke the 1953 B-movie Robot Monster, the name Hal Stewart refers to two popular Green Lanterns) and others will get a chuckle (there’s a twisted take on the iconic Obama posters and a quick Donkey Kong inspired action scene), but most fall flat, such as a final dance montage set to Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Do all of Dreamworks’ animated movies have to end with a dance party?
The story may not be particularly captivating, but the animation in Megamind is exceptional and the character designs are reminiscent of Monsters vs. Aliens. I found myself noticing minor details that I normally don’t such as skin tones and the sheen of Megamind’s bald, blue skull. Another scene featuring Metro Man flying between the skyscrapers of Metro City is almost breathtaking as are the action sequences. The titanic tussles cause mass destruction and it is all exceptionally detailed. The color palette of Megamind still managed to be bright and sharp, despite the fact that the 3D process tends to dull the images. While I’m not a huge proponent of 3D, the work here is very well done. The animators have created a clear depth of field without the 3D becoming obtrusive.
Megamind features some lush visuals and if eye candy is what you crave, I’d say see it at a theater armed with an excellent 3D projector. The kiddies will likely have a good time as evidenced by the happy rugrats that attended the same screening as I did. However, if you’re looking for substance over style and you don’t have children, then Megamind should be considered rental material. The animation is great and the voice work solid (with Ferrell bringing his trademark inflections and humor), but the script substitutes real jokes with the same type of tired pop culture references that sunk another Dreamworks’ production, Shark Tale.
Pixar already said all there needed to be said about animated superhero movies with The Incredibles. In terms of ‘supervillain turned good’ movies, Megamind pales in comparison to Universal’s Despicable Me. Ranking Dreamworks’ 2010 slate, Megamind rates well above Shrek Forever After, but fails to reach the quality of How to Train Your Dragon, one of the year’s best films. A mish-mash of unrealized ideas, Megamind lacks the heart and the wit to truly succeed on those levels.
Film Value: 6 out of 10