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#391. The Animated Anti-hero

The last decade has seen the rise of the superhero in cinema, helping to perpetuate the ideals of the “hero” archetype. These characters know the right thing to do, and they perform these honorable actions even if it comes at a great personal sacrifice. While this type of protagonist has been around for centuries, modern morality has muddled the waters when it comes to knowing what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Enter the anti-hero. These are the characters who would usually be considered the antagonists of a story, but find themselves doing the right thing anyway—even if it’s merely because the action aligns with their less-than-reputable goals. Interestingly enough, with the rise of flashy, cartoonish superheroes on the big screen, the realm of anti-heroes has also shown an uptick in an unlikely medium: animation. This week’s two films highlight some animated anti-heroes.

Despicable MeDespicable Me
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Science is a tool. Depending on how it’s used, it can either provide a great benefit or great harm to humanity. Just like a hammer could be used to build a shelter or to smash an enemy’s fingers, science is beholden to its wielder’s will. If a scientist wants to cure diseases or infect the entire planet depends entirely on their motivations and end-game goals. While some actions are clearly in the realm of “mad science,” others are slightly more ambiguous. Could a scientist bring about world peace by becoming a supervillain powerful enough to unite the world against them? While the end result is for the greater good, it probably wasn’t what the anti-hero had in mind when they set out to accomplish their goals. Some acts of supervillainy are so incredible that only the realm of animation can adequately capture them.

Gru (Steve Carell) has a problem: he can’t seem to infiltrate his rival’s secret base. As a supervillain scientist, Gru is frustrated that Vector (Jason Segel) has the upper hand in so many different regards. Vector not only stole the Great Pyramids of Giza before Gru could, but he also has the money to buy and/or invent such weapons as the shrink ray Gru needs to steal to convince the Bank of Evil to lend him money. Just as all hope is lost, Gru watches as three girls easily bypass the security of Vector’s base to sell him cookies. Now that he has found the weakness in Vector’s armor, Gru proceeds to adopt the orphaned girls so he can complete his plan to steal the moon. Unfortunately, now that he is the adopted father of three girls, his family responsibilities start to detract from his villainy. He did the right thing by adopting the orphans but soon has to make a choice to keep pursuing evil or a family.

Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

In Wreck-It Ralph (2012), a collection of video game villains have a support group with the creed, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.” This idea that villains are content with never being able to do the right thing is interesting because their actions may still create a net positive for the universe. If a villain succeeds in their villainy and manages to take over the world, do they then become the protector of said world? Would they then be forced to become the hero? The concepts of good and bad are two forces that need balance, so removing one of the sides creates a vacuum. Consequently, if a villain attempts to do something they know a hero would do, would the result still be the same? Would their subconscious sabotage their attempt at being a hero and thus bring about a consequence much worse than they had anticipated?

Long-time rivals Metro Man (Brad Pitt) and Megamind (Will Ferrell) are entangled in the deadly tango of the hero/villain dynamic. In their latest scuffle, Megamind finally defeats his alien cousin and takes control of Metro City. With the city now under his command, Megamind soon finds himself bored and lonely without any heroes to confront him. Reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) is also mourning the loss of Metro Man, who was her romantic interest. Megamind uses a hologram to interact with Roxanne and share his feelings about losing Metro Man. While the two of them slowly start to fall in love, Megamind realizes he must create a new hero to replace Metro Man. Using the unassuming Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill), Megamind ends up with more than he bargained for when Hal becomes “Titan” and puts the city at risk. Now Megamind must become the hero the city needs to save the day.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 peculiar protagonists

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