It’s funny how the zeitgeist works, in that it is hardly unusual for two films with very similar high concepts to hit the screens at close to the same time. Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Deep Impact and Armageddon. Hell, The Towering Inferno came about as a result of Fox and Warner cooperating in order to avoid making identical films. And this year, two animated features with super-villains as their protagonists: Despicable Me and our current subject: Megamind.
His childhood consistently ruined by the budding Metro Man (Brad Pitt), Megamind (Will Ferrell) becomes the super-villain he feels he was destined to be. But when his latest scheme actually succeeds in destroying Metro Man, he finds life curiously empty, and so sets about creating a new super-hero: Tighten (Jonah Hill). But Tighten, it turns out, is more villain than hero, while Megamind, thanks in no small part to a budding relationship with reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey), moves ever closer to hero territory.
Visually, this is a lovely piece of work. The world is inviting, and the character design is great (I particularly like Minion, the fish in the suit from Robot Monster). There are also quite a few great incidental visual gags and lines. But the pace is nowhere near as snappy as it needs to be, and the plot is far too predictable. Megamind is a likable sort, but he isn’t much of a villain – that side of his character takes up about five minutes or so of screen time. The voice acting, meanwhile, though competent, is more about the Big Name Voice Talent than character voices, a problem underscored by the fact that Tighten, for instance, actually looks like Hill. A handsomely mounted exercise, then, but in the category of comic-book-inspired animation, a far cry from The Incredibles.
The extreme resolution of the Blu-ray picture can sometimes be a bit of a drawback when it comes to live-action films, in that we see actors in more minute detail than we ever would have in the theatre, to rather unflattering effect. But that is not a problem with animated features, and they and Blu-ray are a heavenly match. The picture quality here is spectacular. As one would expect, there isn’t a trace of grain. The colours are beyond reproach: brilliant, with superb contrasts and many levels of blacks, and never any bleed or pixelation. The resolution reveals every detail of the animators’ art. When Megamind walks out of prison, for instance, every blade of grass in the background is clearly defined. The net result is a picture of enormous depth, about as three-dimensional as 2D can get (and a lot better looking than many 3D efforts). The aspect ratio preserves the original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the AVC codec parks itself comfortably in the 20-30 Mbps range. Beautiful stuff.
One does get very tired of run-of-the-mill surround sound tracks, where the “surround” amounts to little more than making sure the music plays primarily in the rear speakers, and the occasional explosion will come from all sides. So it’s always a joy when real care is evident in the disc’s sound. Here, for instance, when Megamind is using a microphone to address a crowd, the hollow, echoing sound that his voice acquires reverberates from all speakers, very convincingly placing the viewer in the middle of the scene. And speaking of placement, it’s all very nicely handled with regards to the sound effects. Left-right separation is top-notch, as is front-back movement, again creating the satisfying impression of a world that exists beyond the confines of the TV screen. The dialogue absolutely clear, with zero sibilance to trouble it, and the score is suitably grand. Like picture, like sound, in other words.
Commentary Track: The participants are producers Lara Breay and Denise Cascino, director Tom McGrath, and writers Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons. One listen to the track in either the traditional audio form, or as a picture-in-picture accompaniment (called “The Animators’ Corner”). The latter option does make some of the banter a bit more awkward than it is when we don’t see the uncomfortable shifting around, but it is also supplemented by storyboards and further interviews, so it is the more informative of the options. And there is, indeed, a lot of information here, from original idea to actual production.
Megamind and the Button of Doom: (15:52) A new short. Now that Megamind is the protector of Metro City, he’s getting rid of all his old evil devices, but then runs afoul of his own giant killer robot. Much the same level of ho-hum hijinks and the main feature.
Trivia Track: Pop-up factoids, some obvious (like letting us know Tina Fey plays Roxanne), some interesting.
Comic Creator: Don’t get excited; it’s less interesting than it sounds. Pick a scene, add printed sound effects and expressions from a selection at the bottom of the screen, and play back the result should you so desire.
Behind the Mind: Four photo galleries: “Hideouts,” “Inventions,” “Vehicles” and “Megamind: Good and Evil.”
The Reign of Megamind: A video comic book.
Spot the Difference: The old puzzle standard, in easy, medium and hard flavours. Only I’ll be damned if I could figure out how to make it work. After trying to make a selection and pushing madly at every button I could think of, I gave up. I’m sure the wee tykes won’t find this frustrating at all.
Mega Rap: (1:01) Parody rap song set to footage from the film.
Meet the Cast of Megamind: (9:20) Making-of featurette looking at the voice talent. Standard stuff.
Deleted Scene: (1:36) A melancholy moment with Megamind brushing his teeth while at his most depressed.
Inside Megamind’s Lair: (7:12) A more general making-of piece, some of whose footage also turns up in “The Animators’ Corner.”
Animator Man: (2:01) A brief look at the animation process.
You Can Draw Megamind: (13:14) Assuming, of course, you can draw already. I did find that the early pencil was very hard to make out on the screen.
The DVD’s extras are the audio commentary, “Meet the Cast” and the deleted scene.
Tons of extras, gorgeous visuals and sound, top-notch production values all around. But the script isn’t quite there, and that’s a shame.