Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Mega-Review of MEGAMIND ...!

- It's been a pretty memorable year for animated films. Sure, you can always rely on Pixar to produce something great year in and year out, but I think this has been the year that Dreamworks has really stepped up to the plate and narrowed the gap between them and their Disney-owned competition. Earlier this year, How To Train Your Dragon surprised me by being one of the best animated movies I've seen in the last few years - it had all the heart, depth, and breathtaking animation of a Pixar movie, though with its own unique style. It still ranks as one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. Now though, Megamind comes along, and it's yet another win for Dreamworks Animation. Megamind isn't as deep or as heartfelt as Dragon - or Toy Story 3, for that matter - but what it lacks in layers it more than makes up for in sheer fun and whiz-bang excitement. Megamind is funny - I got a real kick out of the humor, and laughed a lot throughout. It's a great riff on Superman and superhero stories, so if you're into that stuff you'll get an extra thrill from all the little references and homages. And the animation and 3D implementation is, in my opinion, awesome. The movie is a thrill ride, and you can't help but get caught up in the roller-coaster-ride-like superhero battles and action scenes. Megamind may not be the best animated movie of the year (Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon will probably have to battle it out for that crown), but man, I really dug it.

From the start, Megamind reveals itself as a subversively funny take on the Superman legend. We all know the story of how baby Kal-El got rocketed to earth from the doomed planent Krypton. But, imagine that alongside the destined-to-be-great future superhero, another baby was also sent to earth from a similarly doomed planet. Except, where the former infant looked human and was blessed with all manner of crowd-pleasing superpowers, the latter was a freakish-looking blue alien who's only gift was a large intellect and a penchant for evil. Thus was born the eternal rivalry between the hero and people's champion, Metro Man, and his archnemesis and supervillain extraordinairre, Megamind. Now, the movie kicks off many years into this storied rivalry, at a point where Megamind's schemes have grown old and tired. His constant kidnappings of spunky TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi have become routine to the point where even Roxanne is bored by them. But then, something happens. Mostly by accident, Megamind actually defeats Metroman, and suddenly finds himself victorious. And this is the main premise of Megamind - what does the villain do when he finds himself without a hero to fight?

The plot proceeds in a fairly predictable manner, and some of the narrative turns come about a little too easily and conveniently. But ... it's hard to get too caught up in all that, if only because most of Megamind is so fun and fast-paced that you don't mind just going along for the ride. Like I said, the movie is really funny as well - and the success of the humor can be attributed to some very snappy and clever writing, extremely expressive and dynamic animation, and of course, the great voice cast.

I know that a lot of people get down on animated movies that have celebrity voice casts, but in Megamind, at least to me, the voice-casting is star-studded, yes, but so natural and well-chosen for each part that it's hard to argue with. Will Farell, for one, is great as Megamind. He gives the villain/hero of the movie a Stephen Colbert-like pomposity that makes for some very funny moments. Tina Fey as the plucky, Lois Lane-like reporter Roxanne? Really great, and I mean come on, who better than Tina Fey to play that part. Bradd Pitt as heroic yet slightly-jaded Metro Man is also a great fit. And Jonah Hill is excellent as Tighten - a warped would-be hero who is basically Jimmy Olsen-gone-bad, as sort of a walking embodiment of the song "Jimmy Olsen's Blues." (Yes, that's a Spin Doctors reference. Deal with it.) One other big standout - David Cross as Megamind's right-hand-alien, Minion. I know that the talented Cross has been in a lot of pretty mediocre kids' / animated fare in recent years, so it's great to see him pop up in a movie like this where he gets to be very funny and a scene-stealer.

All of that voice talent melds with the animation to create some pretty visually-awesome set pieces. The action in the movie is great, and there's also a surprisingly badass classic rock soundtrack throughout that really gets the ol' blood pumping. Let's just say that the fact that one of Megamind's big, climactic scenes is punctuated by Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" makes it that much cooler and fist-pump worthy. And, as with How to Train Your Dragon, the 3D is expertly implemented, giving a natural but unobtrusive sensation of depth and immersion, and making for some really cool flight scenes to boot.

Again, part of me wants to dock Megamind ever so slightly for being a bit too by-the-numbers at times, and for skimping on nuance in favor of a not-quite-earned "aw-shucks" happy ending. But really, those nitpicks aside, I have to take my hat off to the folks at Dreamworks for creating yet another animated winner. Megamind is an absolute blast to watch from start to finish, with plenty of moments that will leave any fanboy or fangirl or fan of fun animation smiling stupidly from ear to ear.

My Grade: A-

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