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MOVIE REVIEW: Will Ferrell, dream cast shine in 'Megamind'

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Megamind

(PG)

3 out of 4 stars

The first time Will Ferrell provided his voice to an animated feature ("Curious George") he had to play it straight, which was fitting as his white bread character was one-dimensional and the material was beyond ultra-safe. At various points as the title character in "Megamind," Ferrell is the villain, the hero, the straight man, the buffoon and the romantic lead and he pulls every one of those personalities off convincingly. It might just be the most fully realized performance of Ferrell's career.

As with the equally superior "The Other Guys" from this past summer, Ferrell is joined here by a dream cast that does most of the heavy lifting and a result makes him look like a smarter -- and better actor. This is all the more impressive due to that fact that voice actors in animated films almost always perform alone without the aid of input from their co-stars.

While it can and certainly will be enjoyed by children, the never-suggestive but always clever humor is clearly aimed at adults. In a manner not unlike that in the first "Shrek" and this year's "Despicable Me," DreamWorks studios takes a gruff and not-quite anti-hero and transforms him into a winning protagonist without softening their rough edges along the way.

Landing on Earth as a baby via space pod, Megamind is snake-bit from the get-go. Not only spindly and blue, he had to compete with the far more talented, photogenic, buff and metrosexual Metro Man (Brad Pitt). In a manner not unlike that of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, Metro Man thwarts Megamind's every evil move, which -- given Megamind's woefully inept execution -- isn't all that difficult.

Perhaps out of boredom or no longer feeling challenged, Metro Man takes some time off which leaves Megamind without a foil to fight, so he kind of, sort of invents one. This move doesn't sit well with his minion/sidekick named, oddly enough, Minion (David Cross), whose ominous predictions regarding a made-to-order superhero all come true.

Offering some much needed estrogen balance to all of the free-wheeling testosterone is the high-profile TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). With her pixie hair-do, devastating curves and plucky attitude, Roxanne is a modern-day Lois Lane and at one point or another she becomes the romantic interest (or target) of no less than four men. Not easily rattled, Roxanne does have a single chink in her go-girl armor which (thankfully) isn't fully revealed until way past the halfway point.

It's beyond difficult to put a new spin on the animated superhero vs. villain theme and "Megamind" has its fair share of predictable cliches, narrative crutches and commonplace archetypes. The "Real 3-D" presentation isn't much to shout about either.

What keeps the movie flying high and always fresh is the often droll, borderline irreverent dialogue, some of which appears to be improvised by Ferrell and especially Fey. Their snappy repartee recalls the classic screwball comedies of the late '40s set in the modern workplace where the female leads bucked the trend of being subservient to their male counterparts and gave as good as they received. Roxanne makes for an excellent female role model for young girls and to their immense credit, the filmmakers don't ram the message down the audiences' throats.

In what might be the best year ever for animated features, "Megamind" doesn't quite make it into the same class as "Despicable Me," "Toy Story 3" or "How to Train Your Dragon" but it's still better than the lion's share of the current live-action fare. It's also the third big winner in a row for DreamWorks animation, a company that is determined to keep nipping at Pixar's heels. (DreamWorks)