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Megamind (2010,USA)

30/07/2011

Director: Tom McGrath     Starring: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, David Cross

Even with the passage of more than half a decade it is difficult to shake the feeling that Dreamworks were retreading ground first broken by their arch rivals (regardless of their claims to the contrary) Pixar with their 2004 superhero tale, The Incredibles. This assumption is a little unfair however, because rather than the more or less straight superhero story served up by Pixar, Megamind changes the focus from the heroes to the villains, Dreamworks opting to tell the story from the point of view of the titular super villain.

Orphaned by the destruction of his home planet (a la Superman) the infant Megamind (Ferrell) is launched into space, finding his way to Earth, as is fellow inter galactic orphan (and destined to be super heroic) Metro Man (Pitt). While Metro Man ends up being adopted by a wealthy family and has amazing super powers, Megamind finds himself arriving on Earth in a high security prison with no powers to speak of other than his devestating intellect. Forever the outsider and constantly being upstaged by Metro Man throughout his childhood, Megamind discovers that he can get himself noticed through villainy and becomes defined by his rivalry with Metro Man. This childhood rivalry continues into adulthood where the two find themselves in constant conflict, Megamind persistently kidnapping intrepid reporter and Metro Man groupie Roxanne Ritchie (Fey) only to be routinely trounced by the hero. When he finally, after years of constant defeat, manages to beat his foe, his victory is short lived when he realises that without a superhero to battle against, what point is there in his villainous ways? Suffering a loss of purpose he hatches a plan to forge a new opponent, a plan that has unforseen consequences.

What struck me as the most interesting thing about Megamind wasn’t the spectacular animation, which is stunning to look at in a lot of places with some really nice, subtle touches. It wasn’t the quality of the cast which includes some seriously heavy hitters from the realms of Hollywood comedy. It was the way it plays with the themes of duty and morality, its portrayal of the eternal dichotomy of good and evil and its exploration of what drives us to act the way we do. Sound a bit heavy for a family animation? Well, no, not really. It’s the same refreshing complexity that was on show on my current favourite Dreamworks animation How To Train Your Dragon and it really works.

Megamind wasn’t born bad. He was brought up in an environment that emphasised the values of dishonesty and criminality and was taught that to get attention he had to be bad in order to compete. As the story progresses he learns a different way to view the world, discovering the value in good behaviour and learning what it means to be the focus of someone’s attention in a positive way instead of a negative one. By the conclusion he has been rehabilitated, a force for good. Similarly, the “hero” he creates to replace the defeated Metro Man may have the physical attributes of the super hero but he lacks the moral fibre and sense of duty of his predecessor, preferring instead to use his powers to avenge perceived slights, help himself to the things he wants and get back at a world he feels has wronged him. These motivations and changes in character are handled well and most importantly feel completely plausible and very, very human.

Disappointingly it’s not quite as funny as I’d hoped for, given the cast, let down occasionally by clunky writing (note to Hollywood: please, please, please lay off the people sending texts who aren’t comfortable with mobile phones jokes – LOL smiley face) but showing occasional flashes of comedy genius which I suspect stem more from cast improvisation than the written lines. Perhaps the writers were too embroiled in the existential aspects of the script to remember to write good jokes or maybe they just struggled in the face of my expectations of the cast, either way I would describe it as an adequately funny rather than hilarious film, something of a tragedy given its pedigree.

It certainly doesn’t disappoint in the animation department. Dreamworks animations are becoming more and more breathtaking when it comes to their visuals and this is the best one I’ve seen yet. An amazing level of detail is on show which makes the multiple set peices really come alive. From the startling realism of the ocean as Metro Man rushes to save Roxanne to the shattering glass as Titan rips up a skyscraper to use as a club, every frame is evidence of the care and attention that has been lavished on the animation. Definitely one to watch on blu ray I think, although the DVD transfer is very good.

What this film is definitely not, is that elusive Pixar beater that Dreamworks seem to be in constant search of. What it is though is a thoughtful, entertaining morality tale told with spectacular visual style by people with a clear love for the medium and it’s worth your time for that reason alone.

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