A Question of Destiny

I didn’t do any Disney movies last weekend because I got sidetracked and ended up creating a thematic double feature.

First, on Friday night I watched Megamind. I’d been thinking about this one after seeing a Cinema Therapy video on it. Cinema Therapy is a fun YouTube channel in which a filmmaker and his therapist friend discuss movies in terms of mental health and relationships. They may discuss a particular movie, using it to highlight a relationship or mental health issue. They may do a roundup or top ten list, ranking movies for things like depiction of healthy (or unhealthy) relationships. They do spotlights on heroes, showing the issues the heroes face and how the way they overcome them is what makes them heroes. And they look at villains and what kind of help they’d need to get over their problems. I recently watched the episode they did on Megamind, using it to illustrate the issue of the “nice guy” who’s only doing good things to get attention or praise and expects to be rewarded, as opposed to kindness, which is doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, without it being transactional. When I saw that the movie was on Prime, I decided to watch it. I thought I’d seen it on HBO back when it first came out, but I’m not sure. Maybe I saw clips.

The movie is sort of a spoof on the Superman story. A baby on another world gets put in a pod by his parents and sent away from a dying world. But there are actually two pods from two different planets. One is basically Superman, but the other is a blue-skinned creature with a giant brain. The Not!Superman pod lands with a wealthy family, and the other lands in a prison, where the prisoners adopt the child and bring him up. When he ends up in school with the other kid, he realizes he’ll never be able to compete at being good, so he decides to be a supervillain and the nemesis to MetroMan. They’re fairly evenly matched, so all of Megamind’s evil schemes always come close to succeeding before he’s foiled at the last second by MetroMan. But then one of his schemes actually works and he gets to take over the city. Now what? Maybe he needs to create a hero to be his new nemesis, since a villain is nothing without a hero to fight. But what if the new hero actually turns out to be bad? Can a villain become a hero?

I normally don’t have a lot of patience for the “poor, sad villain can’t help being evil and it’s all the hero’s fault for not being nice to him” story, but I actually buy this one because in some respects it’s true. Megamind doesn’t stand a chance, growing up in a prison and being raised by felons, and MetroMan is kind of a jerk and a bully. But ultimately, it also makes it clear that it was Megamind’s choices that made him a villain, and different choices can give him a different outcome. The story is ultimately about the idea that there is no destiny, that you choose who you want to be, and the choices you make reflect the kind of person you are. This becomes clear when the wrong guy ends up getting turned into the new superhero. He’s the guy who thinks he deserves the girl because he’s “nice” to her, but he’s only nice because he wants her, and he gets mad when she doesn’t respond to him the way he wants.

The movie is a lot of fun, has some great laugh-out-loud moments and an excellent cast (including Brad Pitt having fun mocking his own image as MetroMan — he really does seem to like those roles that allow him to mock himself) and is thought-provoking.

Then I noticed that The Iron Giant is also on Prime and is leaving at the end of the month, so I figured that would make a good Saturday movie to fit the theme, since that whole move is about the giant choosing what he wants to be. In the late 50s, during the Sputnik era, a strange thing crashes to earth. A young boy in rural Maine discovers a giant metal man and befriends him, hiding him from the authorities. But what is the iron giant, and is he a threat? Maybe he can decide for himself.

I remember watching this movie on HBO, and I remembered the major points, but not a lot of the details. It’s directed by Brad Bird, who went on to do The Incredibles for Pixar. I found myself wondering how this movie would have worked if it had been a Pixar film. It has that kind of heart. Most of the movie is more conventional hand-drawn, 2-D animation, with the robot being computer animated. I’m not super crazy about the hand-drawn animation. There’s a Saturday-morning cartoon feel to it, which may have been deliberate. It’s nowhere near as rich as the Disney animation, especially with the human characters. But would there have been the robot vs. human contrast if the whole thing had been done Pixar-style?

The movie is quite sweet and gets into that issue of deciding who you want to be and whether you’re a friend or an enemy depends not on what you are but on what you do. It gets a little heavy-handed at times and isn’t quite as amusing as Megamind, but it does bring a tear to my eye a few times.

And now I’m inspired to go out and create my own destiny!

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