DreamWorks Animation’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon‘, released this past spring, remains one of the year’s very best movies. Directed by the ‘Lilo & Stitch’ team of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the film had heart and guts. In its titular dragon, Toothless, it also had one of the better dragon designs in recent memory. It seemed as though, maybe, DreamWorks would be moving away from the snappy, instantly forgettable pop culture-enriched fare of ‘Shrek’ and its endless sequels, or the toneless ‘Monsters vs. Aliens‘, into territory that’s actually substantial and memorable. That optimism has lasted all of six months. Now, even with the recent news that Guillermo del Toro has signed on to be a creative shepherd on many of the studio’s upcoming features, I’m back to being bummed by the overworked slop of ‘Megamind’. Whew, is this one boring!
The movie starts out well enough, with Will Ferrell’s blue alien Megamind being rocketed away from a dying world. The only problem is that there’s another refugee spanning the cosmos with him: Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Whereas Megamind fell to earth and landed in a prison, Metro Man was raised by wealthy parents. Megamind turned to villainy, while Metro Man became a Superman-type hero. But things quickly go downhill, from a narrative perspective, at least. Megamind actually succeeds in thwarting our hero, taking control of Metro City (which Megamind constantly mispronounces), and spends the rest of the movie suffering from an identity crisis: If he’s defined by his nemesis, who is he once his nemesis is gone?
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it should. It’s pretty similar to ‘Despicable Me‘, except somewhat more interesting visually.
Story-wise, things just hit the skids. The movie is needlessly convoluted, to the point that, about halfway through the film, I looked up at the screen and thought, “There’s an awful lot of talking in this movie.” (I also thought back to ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and its long stretches of beautiful, emotive silence.) Things happen for no apparent reason, with complications arising at every turn: Megamind falls in love with the woman he’s constantly endangering (Tina Fey), and his plot to create a new hero backfires on him, creating an even nastier villain (Jonah Hill, who seems to pop up in virtually every animated movie). And since this is in 3-D, a whole bunch of crap zooms out at you, with whole shots and sequences designed around maximum eye-poking. It’s so irritating.
Even recounting what the movie is about is putting me to sleep. There’s no zest to the animation. The performances are all rather flat. Ferrell sounds like a B-rate ‘SNL’ character (that is, a distinct lack of character). The only exception is David Cross, who plays a talking fish that lives inside of a bubble perched atop a mechanical suit. (That seems to be a reference to the forgettable sci-fi flick ‘Robot Monster’.) But even his character is shortchanged with a baffling character arc towards the end of the film. And those super-annoying flourishes that have been a hallmark of DreamWorks animation (i.e. an over-reliance on pop culture references, tons of pop music, etc.) are back in full effect. Movies that are as busy and talkative as ‘Megamind’ seem like they’re just trying to distract you from the thinness of the material.
Is ‘Megamind’ diverting enough for 95 minutes? I suppose so. But it lacks anything truly unique or special – all that great stuff that put ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ among the very best animation has to offer.