Friday, April 4, 2014

Postmodern Anti-Hero: The Rise of the Cartoon Villain Turned Good

Cartoon movies by their nature can be very black and white: we know right away the good guy and the bad guy.  Take any Princess movie (with the possible exception of Frozen), and you’ll have a heroine who is basically good through and through.  She has pure intentions and only desires the best in people.  She’s good from the beginning.  Many cartoon movies feature good-hearted boys and girls struggling against evil people to save the day.  But in a post-modern world, the definitions aren’t so simple.  Good people can do evil things and evil people can do good things.  What is interesting is that there have been three separate animated movies which have a main character that is essentially supposed to be bad, but through the course of the movie decides to be good.  The main character is specifically shown to be a mean and/or designated villain.  But then, circumstances happen which make the villain make a choice to do the right thing.  Let’s examine them:

Megamind is a designated villain who is seemingly destined to forever do battle in Metro City with Metro Man, the designated hero.  Megamind was an alien, who crash landed in a prison, and thus learned all of his terrible ways from them and became evil due to everyone else’s rejection of him.  But in the opening sequence, Metro Man is killed!  Megamind, who is expecting to lose and thrown in jail, is totally surprised at first, quickly takes over the city.  But becoming bored with the whole winning thing, he decides to create a new hero using some of Metro Man’s DNA.  The guy he picks is a goofy cameraman from the local News Team, Hal, to become “Tighten”.  But the unintended consequence is that Hal has no desire to “be good” and instead uses his new powers to do whatever he wants.  When the battle between Megamind and Tighten finally happens, Tighten wants to kill Megamind, which Megamind never expected, because with Metro Man he was always captured and put in jail.  He escapes, and realizes the damage that Tighten has become.  When Tighten kidnaps Roxanne, the news anchor that both Megamind and Tighten are in love with, Megamind decides to really stop Tighten from hurting Roxanne and destroy the city.  In this story, Megamind is the designated villain, who is forced to choose to do good to stop someone who selfishly desires only to please himself.  While he was born into that role, ultimately he can choose his own fate.

Despicable Me is about Gru, a supervillain who desires to be the best supervillain of all time.  His problem is that Vector, a new villain has stolen the pyramids of Giza and now everyone else looks lame.  So he decides to shrink and steal the moon.  He obtains the shrink ray, but immediately afterwards Vector steals the shrink ray from him.  But then three little girls come straight through the door selling Girl Scout cookies.  Finding out that the girls are orphans, he decides to adopt them to use them for his plan.  He is able to get the shrink ray, but as he starts getting ready with his plan, he starts bonding with the girls, which starts to conflict with his plans of moon-stealing.  Their ballet recital is on the same day as the big day he plans to steal the moon.  So his partner in crime, Dr. Nefario, sends them back to the orphanage.  Gru is hurt, nevertheless he tries to steal the moon on that day anyway, but after he does so, Vector holds the girls hostage.  Gru willingly trades the moon for the girls, and but Vector doesn’t give the girls up, and Gru goes after him to save the girls and the moon.  In this story, Gru, the designated villain, decides to adopt three girls as part of his evil plan.  But the unintended consequence is that he would come to care for them like a father cares for his children.  His love for them started to supersede any evil plan he had. 

Wreck-It-Ralph is about a video-game villain who is tired of his designated role in the video game.  As part of Fix-It Felix Junior, the townspeople of the game respect and admire Felix the hero but look down on Ralph.  Not content to simply be a villain anymore, he decides to escape the game altogether and enter other games in the arcade.  Thinking he needs a medal like Felix receives in the game to be accepted, he decides to find another game to receive one.  At first he goes to the shooter game Hero’s Duty and receives a medal, but it inadvertently the game’s villain, the Cy-Bug.  Then he crashes in to Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game.  He finds Vanellope, who is ostracized because she has glitches in the game.  At first, he helps Vanellope make a car to race.  But then the Candy King finds Ralph, gives him a medal and tells him that having Vanellope win would be terrible for both her and the game.  Ralph wrecks the car and returns, but everyone has left the game, because without the villain, Fix-It Felix will be unplugged.  Then he figures out that Vanellope was supposed to be in the game all along; and goes back to Sugar Rush, saves Vanellope and Felix (who had been captured looking for Ralph), and Felix fixes Vanellope’s car.  As Vanellope begin to race, the Cy-Bugs begin to take over the game.  Ralph chooses to sacrifice himself to keep the Cy-Bugs from destroying the game, but Vanellope uses her glitching ability to save Ralph.  In this story, Ralph is the designated villain in name only. He is the most benevolent of the three examples and actively works with Vanellope even when it only had marginal benefit on him.  He does wreck Vanellope’s car, but only because he thought it would hurt her to race.  He realizes that the role he plays is more so of an actor for a movie than a part he is destined in “real-life.” 


All three of the characters are “designated” villains who make a choice to be good when faced with circumstances that harm others.  While it does somewhat conform to the postmodern idea of there being no bad or good, it also shows that no matter how you start out, your life can be redeemed.  It can have true meaning.  We are also not destined with our supposed fate; we can choose to be good.  This choice informs all of the main characters of the three movies and gives them the sympathetic angle we can identify with when we watch them.  

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