DreamWorks Animation conjures up its history of conceptual rip-offs with the sometimes diverting, sometimes dull "Megamind." Luckily, kids have short memories, but it's still no sure bet they'll respond to the latest animated entry in the post-ironic "Shrek" vein.
Those of us who remember the bad old days when exec Jeffrey Katzenberg jumped ship from Disney to DreamWorks may wonder if "Megamind" is the result of the same kind of corporate espionage that pitted "Antz" against "A Bug's Life," "The Road to El Dorado" versus "The Emperor's New Groove," et al. Though Disney isn't involved this time, "Megamind" bears conceptual resemblance to "Despicable Me," released in July by Universal. Hard to say which went into production first, but both take a supervillain's perspective, as we discover he's not such a bad guy after all.
Will Ferrell plays the dastardly doofus Megamind, the perpetual loser of epic matches with superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt, amusingly channeling buddy George Clooney). Always drawn into the middle, reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) fills the Lois Lane role.
As written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, "Megamind" trades on the mythology of Superman, beginning with an origin sequence that finds baby Megamind and baby Metro Man hurtling away from exploding homeworlds. The most amusing riff: Megamind adopting the guise of a fatherly mentor with a distinct resemblance to Marlon Brando's Jor-El. The orderly world of Metro City goes topsy-turvy when Megamind appears, almost accidentally, to vanquish Metro Man.
What is a supervillain without his hero? This question, at times addressed seriously in the pages of comic books, gets a comic treatment -- or, rather, a "romantic comedy" treatment as Megamind attempts to win over Roxanne, for whom he's long carried a torch. The story's loose parameters of good and evil put forward the ideal that everyone is capable of redemption or, in the case of Roxanne's cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill), corruption. Granted superpowers by Megamind, Hal becomes Tighten, a would-be superhero whose selfishness quickly turns him villainous.
Early on, Megamind explains, "Being bad is the one thing I'm good at," but his buyer's remorse when he gains control of Metro City teaches him that love is all he needs.
It's all very silly, and even more busy, with the focus put squarely on bells and whistles. Detailed design and swooping "camera" work exhaust the eye while ironic infusions of pop music exhaust the ear (the go-to method for easy laughs or spackling over deficiencies of plot and character).
Director Tom McGrath ("Madagascar") lands a few of the jokes and gets good results from his voice cast, including the reliably off-kilter David Cross as Megamind's pet fish Minion. Say this for "Megamind": It doesn't lack energy. Nevertheless, the promise of extraordinary brain power isn't fulfilled.