Among those surprised at the sleeper success of "Despicable Me," no doubt, were the folks at DreamWorks Animation, and not in a good way.
"Despicable Me" covers much of the same ground - halfhearted evil genius finally gives in to his sentimental side - as their new 3-D movie "Megamind," and does it a little better.
"Megamind," though, is by no means a knockoff, and if you get past the eerie coincidences (characters named Minion, the lead's mangled diction), you see that it stakes out different territory, playing around with superhero mythology (especially Superman) in much the same way as "Shrek" poked fun at fairytales.
Will Ferrell is the voice of Megamind, a bulbous, big-brained, blue-domed alien who arrives as an infant from outer space on the same day as baby Metro Man (voice of Brad Pitt).
Metro Man is raised by a loving family of law-abiding citizens and grows up to fight for truth, justice and so forth. Megamind is raised in prison, where his criminal imprinting makes him, as an adult, the perpetual adversary of Metro Man, with a pretty TV reporter named Roxanne (voice of Tina Fey) in between.
As the mythology dictates, Metro Man always wins, Megamind always loses, and this prompts the movie's big "what if?".
What if Megamind won? The movie takes off when Megamind, to everyone's shock, vanquishes his rival, and the city is suddenly abandoned to Megamind's every whim.
Which are what, exactly? The joke is that Megamind doesn't know what to do with himself. Lording over a defeated city turns out to be less fun than battling a formidable opponent, so Megamind creates one.
Here the movie gets a little sloppy, narratively speaking. Megamind injects Metro Man's DNA into a cameraman (Jonah Hill) who has a crush on Roxanne, and he becomes a big, steroidy, angry stalker. It's Jonah Hill like you've never seen him before, and probably didn't want to.
It also makes for an unwieldy love quadrangle, or trapezoid, or rhombus - I don't even know if there's a name for it. And in any case, the lack of emotional heft to any of these angles is a problem for "Megamind."
But tearjerkers aren't really DreamWorks Animation's thing. Their brand is fast-paced matinee-style entertainment, and "Megamind" is often that. It's densely populated with gags, it's a nice piece of art, and well-made 3-D, if you feel like paying the premium.
The highlight: a take-off of the Marlon Brando character from "Superman," a throwaway bit that nevertheless gets one of the year's biggest animated laughs.