Let’s get it out of the way first thing. “Megamind” would be a much more enjoyable experience if it wasn’t so close to one of this year’s brightest family pleasures, Despicable Me. Both are stories of the clash of two mega-villains that turn an anti-hero into a lovable guy. Both lead characters suffer because they were not loved and made to feel a source of pride as children. The sidekicks even have the same name. Megamind has to battle “Despicable Me’s” Gru for the affection of audiences.
It isn’t as good — and it owes a little bit to the incomparable “The Incredibles,” too. But on its own terms it is still a lot of fun and one of the best in a year of spectacular animated features.
Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell) came to earth as a little baby with a big, blue head sent here by rocket before his planet exploded. But at the same time, another set of parents was shooting off their baby towards earth. Megamind’s rocket landed in a prison and he had a childhood of abuse, bullying, and deprivation while his rival was the handsome, charming, popular kid in school who would grow up to be a superhero known as Metro Man (the very manly voice of Brad Pitt). Megamind decided that if he couldn’t be the best at being good, he’d be the best at being bad.
All goes pretty well until Metro Man is suddenly out of the picture. Without a worthy adversary, Megamind has something of an existential crisis. His brilliant solution is to create a new hero so he have someone to compete with. But that doesn’t go according to plan and Megamind finds himself having to save the day.
Those who are familiar with superhero lore will appreciate the tributes to the Superman origin story and Lois Lane-style intrepid female reporter. There are some references to Cyrano de Bergerac as well; it’s not a coincidence that the female lead is named Roxanne (voice of Tina Fey). It is clever without being snarky, and avoids over-doing the usual pop culture references and air quotes. I especially like the way that the emotions and reactions of the main characters, Megamind, Roxanne, and the new nemesis are very relatable for elementary school kids while giving them something to stretch for with references to Tesla coils and existential discussions and a plot with a couple of extra twists. And Roxanne is far from the usual damsel in distress. “Can someone stamp my frequent kidnapping card?” she asks dryly. “You of all people should know we discontinued that promotion,” Megamind replies. She likes him, not because he’s dangerous, but because she can see how much he really wants to be good. And when he’s bad, he’s very, very bad, but when he’s good, he’s even better.