DreamWorks has been firing on all cylinders this year. Perhaps their best film to date, How to Train Your Dragon, was released in March. The surprisingly nice finale of the Shrek franchise followed in May. That may have marked the first time in a decade that the studio released back to back in-house movies that were both good. (OK, I’ll qualify that with an “in my opinion”! But that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?) With the release of Megamind, they’ve reached another first — this is the first time they have released three films in one calendar year. Surely with DreamWorks’ history, coupled with my tendency to not go easy on them, they could not go three for three in 2010… that would be without fathom!
A baby’s home planet is about to be destroyed, so his parent’s put him in a spaceship and send him away. On a nearby planet, also being destroyed, another baby is sent to the same fate. Both babies arrive on Earth where one ends up with a rich family and the other in a prison. As they grow up everything always seems to go the one child’s way, while the other always fails and is shunned. Eventually he embraces his dark side. As adults the two become archrivals — the hero Metro Man and supervillain Megamind. The evil schemes of Megamind always end in failure, until one day fate finally shines on him.
Megamind is not the best thing to ever come from the DreamWorks studios. It starts slow, is a bit predictable, is very uneven, is sometimes forced, and occasionally feels like a copy of several other things mashed together. Which makes how enjoyable it is as a whole all the more surprising!
The marketing department released he first five minutes of the film online before it debuted. I think that was a bad idea. Things start slow and it is those five minutes that are too blame. I admit that did not give me a good vibe as I went into the theatre. Luckily things pick up after that. Megamind is, partly by design, very derivative. And that is OK. When the filmmakers are channeling Superman for inspiration it’s obvious and it’s funny. But on another level the movie fills very unintentionally imitative. For example, some dialogue and characterizations feel lifted from Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil without a wink and a nod. Another downside is sometimes things get very predictable — and when you’re already copying aspects of other stories you need to ensure your part of the story is fresh. But the writers get into a very comfortable groove too often with your standard superhero origin story. It’s when they stray from the formula that the film is at its best. A few unexpected twists do make up for a lot of this in the latter half of the film. Lastly, DreamWorks still has a problem injecting real emotion into their movies and that can lead to a bit of forcing it into scenes when the audience is not feeling it.
So after all that, why does it all come together? I’m really not sure! Some other aspect of the production perhaps?
The animation is, as usual for DreamWorks, very good. Backgrounds, “set decoration”, and most of the character designs were interesting, fun, and fitting. Especially worthy of note is Metro Man — his character animation and posing is so spot on hilarious that he steals the spotlight in every minute he is onscreen. The only complaints are relatively minor. I was not a big fan of the look of the main character. I can’t quite explain why but I think it may be that he looked too young or too “smooth”. His face and head were just a little too perfect, unlike Metro Man, for example, whose lines and gray hairs made his look more interesting. One last minor quibble: why do the human women in so many DreamWorks films get short shrift in the character design department? Vanessa in Bee Movie, Susan in Monsters vs Aliens, and Roxanne in Megamind — all could be interchanged with each other and all would still fit in the very different movies style.
The voice acting is a little more hit than miss, though it’s a fairly big miss. Tina Fey as Roxanne, Brad Pitt as Metro Man, and Jonah Hill as Hal are all pitch perfect in their roles. David Cross as Minion is OK, though I did find it a little odd that for such a strange and exotic character as an alien fish who lives in a robotic monkey body they went with such a normal voice. Will Ferrell as Megamind didn’t completely work for me. When he was on he was on, but way too much of the time it felt phoned in.
So again what made this uneven film so enjoyable? It’s the humor that saves the day. The over the top zaniness of Megamind, the self absorbed buffoonery of Metro Man, and the sarcastic wit of Roxanne — combined with some very funny scenarios and homages — all make this film one of those experiences where you can just go and have fun at the movies. You won’t walk out crying like a baby like in Toy Story 3. You won’t leave moved by a message like in How To Train Your Dragon. But you will leave with a big smile on your face. And when a trip to the theatre can cost almost $100 for a family, that is not a small thing. I guess you could say Megamind makes what could have been a bad film look so good!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
November 5, 2010
directed by Tom McGrath