BORN TO BE BAD?
Villainous misfits, outcasts and losers like the blue-skinned, bobble-headed Megamind are the new heroes. And it’s about time
By Jason Johnson
November 05, 2010
Imagine you were blue. We don’t mean sad blue, but blue blue, like the colour of a Subaru.
Though chances are if you were blue blue, you’d be sad blue too, like Megamind, the titular villain – more accurately, the anti-hero – of DreamWorks’ latest animated superhero comedy which opens here today.
A refugee from a dead planet, Megamind – voiced by Will Ferrell – is rejected by his peers as a young boy owing not just to his peculiar looks, but to his brainy eccentricity.
In addition to his unique skin tone, he has a head the size of a party balloon.
‘Because he is an alien to our world, people judged him differently,’ said Megamind director Tom McGrath.
‘They looked at the way he looked, and they put him in a category as the oddball. You know, the black sheep, the bad boy. So he embraced this role, and thought if I’m going to be the bad boy, I’m going to be the baddest boy of them all. And it launched him into a lifelong career of fighting his nemesis.’
His nemesis is Metro Man.
Handsome, athletic and charismatic, Metro Man (voiced by uber-star Brad Pitt) was not only the most popular kid in school, but raised with every advantage.
‘Metro Man has had it too easy his whole life,’ said Tina Fey, who voices Megamind’s love interest, TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi.
‘You can tell he’s a guy who’s been everyone’s favourite person since he was a baby, and he carries a bit of that cockiness with him.’
In a nutshell, Megamind is the geek, and Metro Man is the jock.
As in most superhero stories – from the old Flash Gordon serials up to more recent flicks such as Unbreakable, Sky High and The Incredibles – brains cause all the trouble and brawn is used to put things right.
Megamind, then, is a classic good versus evil match-up, very much in the tradition of Superman and Lex Luthor.
But at the same time, it’s not, because in this case, the bad guy is a fine fellow.
Certainly, Megamind isn’t the only film in recent months to explore the idea that villains are people too.
Despicable Me, the animated box office hit which just managed to beat Megamind to the firsties punch, tells the story of a cynical old villain named Gru (Steve Carell) whose heart awakens after he adopts three little girls to use in hisÂ nefarious plot to steal the moon.
Like Megamind, poor Gru also had a troubled childhood, though in his case it was his cruelly indifferent mother who set him on the path to villainy.
‘We got the idea that villains really are the ultimate underdog,’ said Megamind writer Brent Simons in an interview with the website SuperHero Tooniverse.
‘In every movie you see, they never win. And there was something there, … a story about a villain who kind of redeems himself.’
It’s a sentiment that could be applied equally well to both Megamind and Gru, or to a growing number of ostensible baddies.
Think of the character arc of Darth Vader – the most obvious example – who evolves from a genius emo kid into a dark lord, and finally saves his soul by killing the evil emperor.
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen the rise of many atypical heroes.
Nerdy ones like Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim. Morally ambiguous ones like those from Watchmen.
All of these films have been hinting at the idea that the traditional idea of a superhero – a man’s man in tights – is somehow bogus, and that it’s the smarter, nicer guys who deserve to be put on that pedestal.
Megamind takes the Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth idea and makes it explicit.
‘Megamind, as a villain, he really is kind of a sweet guy,’ Ferrell said.
‘He’s trying his best to be tough and evil… he thinks of some pretty cool stuff, but at the end of the day no one is really that afraid of him.
‘I think he just wants some kind words thrown his way. But when you’re the bad guy, no one will ever give that to you.’
Strangely enough, The Social Network, a film which at first glance would appear to have much less in common with Megamind than Despicable Me, seems an even closer relation.
Emotionally vulnerable and socially insecure, yet possessing a powerful mind capable of concocting all manner of devilish schemes, Mark Zuckerberg – the founder of Facebook and the subject of The Social Network – could be Megamind’s twin.
Unidentical twin, obviously; he’s a paler shade of blue.
There’s a beautiful scene in the film that might have been lifted right out of Megamind in which a sympathetic female lawyer says to Zuckerberg: ‘You’re not an a”hole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.’
Both Megamind and Zuckerberg are sensitive outsiders whose outsized schemes are nothing more than desperate attempts to fit in, get noticed, be cool.
Sometimes, just sometimes, those crazy plans actually work. Even better, every once in a while, the misfits, outcasts and losers really do get the girl.
Said Fey during the Megamind press conference in Los Angeles: ‘I think I would go for Megamind because he’s very smart and I really do find the purple undertone of this blue skin very attractive. I really do. I think he has beautiful, beautiful skin.’
Hear that, little boys blue?
Come blow your horn.
The battle between good and evil has never been so much fun.
Just ask film-maker Tom McGrath who, along with 60 animators, devoted the last two years of their lives to bring Megamind, a hilarious and affectionate take on the superhero genre, to the big screen.
McGrath is vastly experienced in the world of animation.
He has worked as an animator, storyboard artist and layout artist on numerous TV and film projects, and co-directed Madagascar (2005) and its sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) with Eric Darnell.
The 45-year-old American also knows a thing or two about voicing animated characters, having performed the voices of Skipper the penguin in the Madagascar series and Artist the rat in Flushed Away (2006).
You’ve got some of the very best comedians working today in Megamind.
Not only are they great comedians but they are also great actors.
There is a heart to this film and a love story within it. Will (Ferrell) really played it so well. It’s nice to have them being funny yet have the acting chops, which are fantastic for the story.
For me, it’s a pleasure to be able to work with them – and Brad (Pitt) as well, he was just great.
How did Brad Pitt’s casting come about?
He has a great voice and he is very funny. We pitched the idea of him playing Elvis Presley to Will’s Alice Cooper…in a ‘battle of the bands’ superhero world, and he just had a lot of fun with it and brought a lot to it.
Who is your favourite villain of all time?
There are so many. Some of the Disney villains are so memorable. I think it was Sleeping Beauty where the Queen turns into a dragon at the end and there’s a line about the ‘powers of hell’, which for a kid’s movie is really frightening.
But I also love the Star Wars villains, because there is an aesthetic appeal to them.
I wanted to let the characters in this movie define themselves through their look and appearance, particularly for Megamind with his high collar and studs.
It’s really for appearance’s sake and when he takes over the city, he blasts AC/DC (music). It’s all about the showmanship of being a villain.
Because it intimidates parents (laughs). I remember when I grew up in the 70s it was like ‘don’t listen to that devil music!’ So for me it would make sense that he would play that devil music to evoke fear.
How much improvisation is there in the film?
A lot. What’s great is that you can have a direction for a scene and an objective for a character, but then the words used in how you get from A to B can be played with.
For example, with the character Space Dad, Will came up with the whole Marlon Brando riff.
We were laughing so hard when we were recording it that I decided I wanted to put that in the movie.
So we went back and re-designed the character and added more scenes with Space Dad so we could play around with that character. How we develop is pretty malleable.
The great secret about animation is that you can see the film before you make it, with the storyboards and the voices, and you can change it for the better.