After years of Matrix references and Scorsese jokes, there were signs that DreamWorks Animation was finally starting to come around, with both Kung Fu Panda and (especially) How to Train Your Dragon coming close to reaching the rarefied, seemingly effortless air of Pixar. Any hopes that Megamind would continue the upward path to universality, however, are pretty much whisked away as soon as the first notes of "Bad to the Bone" start playing. While not as desperately, tragically hip as the Shrek franchise, this manic comic book spoof is so busy trying to show that it's in on the joke that it often forgets to include the actual, you know, jokes.
Beginning with a genuinely witty inversion of the Superman mythos, Megamind's plot follows a blue, big-domed refugee (Will Ferrell) from another planet, locked in unending combat with his superheroic rival (a tungsten-stiff Brad Pitt). After unexpectedly gaining the upper hand against his foe, he begins to question the benefits of being the bad guy. Jonah Hill stops by to do a voice because, hey, he's in everything.
To be charitable, director Tom McGrath's (Madagascar) film does have the disadvantage of following the surprisingly effective Despicable Me, which covered much of the same turf with a cartoony, Hellzapoppin' Warner Bros. sensibility. Even without that comparison point, though, it's tough to imagine that much enthusiasm will remain past Megamind's initial marketing blitz. While the 3-D gizmos and giant robot suits are certainly eye-popping (Guillermo del Toro is credited as a creative consultant), Megamind feels like an unfortunate regression back to short-term pop-culture disposability: a film so busy trying to keep the adults entertained that it neglects its core audience. At the screening I attended, the sounds of kids fidgeting almost drowned out the extended Marlon Brando imitation.