What is it about Dreamworks' animated films? They just don't measure up. Which is a shame. They employ inventive stories, top-notch animation, yet they always seem to fall short. When compared to Pixar and Disney offerings. Maybe they need to develop a reputation, a following for a particular kind of animation, much like Warner Bros. was known for creating some truly "Looney Tunes". Get it?.
I love animated films and see many every year. The best are always from Pixar; they always set and consistently raise the bar for all others combining brilliant animation, funny characters and superb storytelling. How often are you so moved by a sequence in an animated film that it brings you to tears? I can name a few from Pixar films. Disney is a fairly close second. The animation is beautiful (they created the feature length animated film and have a rich and bountiful history to draw from), the films are usually funny and the storytelling is good. Disney is best at adapting fairy tales, giving them a little spin, so they start off with some pretty good source material. Dreamworks is a distant third. The animation is always beautiful and rich, but they just aren’t very funny. This is strange, surprising, and even maddening given the huge amount of comedic talent employed in their films. Also, they seem unable to capture the same depth of detail Pixar brings to their films. Perhaps this is why Dreamworks seems all over the map; they change animation and narrative styles with each new film, something Pixar also does. But Pixar has mastered this. Dreamworks hasn't.
"Shrek" really established Dreamworks as a possible contender to the animation throne. Based on a children's book, the character and subject matter allow the filmnmakers to take pot shots at everything that makes Disney Disney. Add incredible voice talent from Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas and John Lithgow and you have the makings of a huge hit. Because of the success of this film, Dreamworks has since made three sequels, continuing the story of the popular ogre and delivering films with wildly differing results. What "Shrek" also did was establish the prescedent o using established film actors as voice talent in animated films. This was something Robin Williams proved could work, but the studios were reluctant to part with so much money sticking primarily with television, Broadway and undiscovered talent. But "Shrek" made it a reality. Now, every Dreamworks film boasts big name talent with mixed results. Will Smith, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Anjelina Jolie continue to lend their talents to various projects.
The reason I continue to go to these films? The animation is usually pretty beautiful. "King Fu Panda" was one of the most beautlfully animated films I have ever seen. But it isn't very funny.
Now, we have "Megamind" starring Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill. Again, great to look at and fun to watch in 3-D, but surprisingly few laughs. Also it seems a little too close to the superb "The Incredibles", knocking it down a few points for originality.
Megamind (Ferrell) and Metro Man (Pitt) have been rivals since they first arrived on this planet as babies. Megamind spends his every waking moment trying to figure out how to escape prison and finally out do his nemesis, Metro Man. His plans usually involve some sort of elaborate contraption in his lair, with many of the details set forth by his minion (David Cross). But Metro City (pronounced very differently with great comedic effect by the villain) loves Metro Man and his seems to thrive on the adulation. Roxanne Richie (Fey), a local news reporter, always seems to get caught in the middle of the tug of war, spending time as the bait in Megamind's plan. One day, Megamind surprises everyone and beats his rival. But he becomes bored and decides to create a new hero, Tighten, fashioning his new nemesis from Hal (Hill), Richie's cameramen. But Hal likes his new powers too much and becomes bored being a hero, so he starts to wreak havoc on Metro City. Who will save the day? Megamind soon realizes he has to step in and set things right.
Directed by Tom McGrath ("Madagascar" and its sequel), "Megamind" is fun to watch, especially in 3-D, but it isn't very memorable.
Ferrell does an interesting job of bringing the alien orphan to life, narrating the life story of both he and Metro Man and bringing us up to speed. His character is more amusing than funny. He frequently mispronounces words and his "diabolical" plans are engaging and fun to watch. Pitt is also good as Metro Man, the super hero who does good things, but his ego is also clearly something that needs to be fed. Luckily, the people of Metro City are only too glad to feed it, heaping adulation on him. Tina Fey is fun as the street wise reporter who isn't really afraid of Megamind, she has been his captive too often and Metro Man always saves her.
But when Megamind begins to groom Hal to become the new superhero, Tighten becomes a little too similar to Syndrome, the character played by Jason Lee in "The Incredibles". Once this happens, you start to see other similarities and the new Dreamworks production feels a bit like a retread.
All animated features are now being produced and released in 3-D. The extra money is too lucrative to the theaters and the studios, and these extra few dollars per ticket helped make "Toy Story 3" the #1 animated film of all time. And I like watching these films in 3-D, even when it doesn't really seem necessary. The 3-D adds a layer of texture to the universe created by the filmmakers. Thankfully, in a Pixar film, you embrace this extra level of detail because the tapestry is so beautiful to begin with. It isn't necessary to have things flying at your face to take advantage of the 3-D process. In "Megamind", they go the same route. It seems to add another texture to the story and little else. It doesn't even really seem to enhance all of the flying sequences.
The story also seems to meander a bit. When Megamind becomes bored, he takes on another persona and… Well, I'll stop before I reveal too much but this part seems a bit slow.
"Megamind" is a wash. Not memorable or funny enough to make it a family classic which is a shame because the animation is good.
I think Dreamworks needs to rethink their strategy. Come up with a consistent type of story and animation. One moment, we have the stylized retro characterizations of "Monsters Vs. Aliens", the next, we have the almost painterly backdrops of "Kung Fu Panda" and gorgeous animation that almost looks hand drawn. First "Shrek", featuring computer generated characters taking aim at the fairy tales of the most famous Disney features, then we have "Over the Hedge", a cutesy animated film based on a popular newspaper comic strip. If they were to develop a particular style, it might help them strive to make it the best and to make the best films. As it stands, they seem like they are all over the place.
And "Megamind" rests firmly in the middle.