November 9, 2009 — What does the future hold for a Hollywood bereft of ideas? Tinsel town seems to have started cannibalizing its own sub-genres, as not one but two upcoming animated superhero spoofs follow the success of The Incredibles.
Since it takes around two to four years for Hollywood to respond to a box-office hit – usually a surprise one – we’re only just seeing the fruits of Brad Bird’s labors. When his The Incredibles hit in 2004, the superhero genre was at something of a low, this being the year before Batman began again. Indeed, one of the reasons The Incredibles probably hit so hard was because the genre was so ripe for being turned on its head! Although there had been parody and deconstructions of superhero conventions before, Bird’s film played with these elements in a unique way, also providing the kind of excitement and thrills that fans of the genre proper could also revel in.
The Incredibles, more than just being another smash off the old Pixar conveyor belt, became its own new sub-genre of the superhero world, and one that we’re inevitably going to see much more of. Except these films won’t be exact rip-offs…oh no, each one will come with its own little twist on the superhero deconstruction motif. So we have Universal’s Steve Carell voiced Despicable Me, the second trailer for which was released last week, and instead of deconstructing the superheros, deconstructs the mind of the supervillain. Who said Hollywood was out of ideas?
Now, it has to be said that what we’ve seen of Despicable Me has so far been very funny, and although it has taken the some time to get it right, Universal – a studio not known for its animation outside of Walter Lantz in the 1940s and 50s, and Spielberg/Bluth in the 1990s – seems to be on the right track. Already this year their speciality division Focus Features has seen good returns on Henry Selick’s Coraline, and Tim Burton’s production of Shane Acker’s 9 confirmed their niche may well be in providing alternatives to the mainstream. They’ve tried that, too, with The Tale Of Desperaux, with the kind of results that suggest they should leave the nice and sweet tales to their competitors.
Which kind of leads me to believe that Despicable Me might deserve more than a shot and hopefully doesn’t get thrown into the Incredibles rip-off bin. The central premise is enough to bring a smile: Carell’s supervillain Gru plots to steal the moon while hidden underground in suburbia, hampered by the attentions of three orphaned girls, who see him as a potential father figure – ahh, there comes that family dynamic element. But don’t count Despicable out yet…if there’s one film that looks like it’s going to pick up The Incredibles‘ cape and run with it, it’s DreamWorks’ OoberMind.
Often derided as the studio that feeds of Pixar’s offcuts, right from when both studios launched competing bug movies A Big’s Life and Antz, the similarities between some of the DWs movies can not be denied. This year has already seen its answer to Monsters, Inc., the 1950s throwback Monsters Vs. Aliens, which although have nothing in common with each other, couldn’t shake off the feeling that we’d seen similar before. For me, MvA was less influenced by Monsters, Inc. than by, again, The Incredibles, tapping into an appreciation of sci-fi more akin to the superhero nods of Bird’s film.
OoberMind is set to come even closer, describing what happens when a criminal mastermind overcomes his heroic nemesis and then finds himself at a loose end: with no one to oppose him, being a supervillain looses its allure. If you’re thinking that this is quite possibly what might have happened in The Incredibles‘ world had Syndrome turned out as the victor, then we’re thinking along the same lines. What’s more, DreamWorks collaborator Ben Stiller, producing through his Red Hour banner, has already visited this concept before, in the greatly underrated Mystery Men, an absurd but brilliant spin on dysfunctional superheroes that beat all these movies to the punch back in 1999!
And you can bet that there are more on the way, until this influx of super-spoofs proves too much and we start being offered sequels to movies no-one asked for in the first place. The super-genre is invulnerable right now, as the desperately unfunny Superhero Movie proved, but eventually enough will be enough, and the spoofs, unless they’re really good and stand on their own, will die of their own Kryptonite poisoning.
Quick…to the Batcave, and stay tooned! — Ben.
Universal’s Despicable Me is set for release in the United States on July 6, 2010, and around the world between August and October.
DreamWorks’ OoberMind is set for release in the United States on November 5, 2010, and around the world throughout December.