Ferrell vs. Pitt

The movie poster at left is an excellent indicator of the degree to which Hollywood has its head stuck up its own ass.

As a father of a ten-year-old and a seven-year-old, I see a lot of big-budget Hollywood cartoons. Sometimes, as is the case with the recent “Despicable Me,” I have to see them twice. It was during the second trip to “Despicable Me” that I saw this poster for “MegaMind.”

Take a look at the poster and tell me what’s wrong with it. No, go ahead. Take a minute. If you’re a parent of young children, it didn’t take you more than a second.

My kids don’t give a rat’s ass who “Ferrell” and “Pitt” are. They care about mad scientists and plucky heroines in trouble and superheroes with weird powers. They care about earnest sponges with a can-do spirit and whiz-bang gadget inventors. They like explosions and narrow escapes.

You know who cares about “Ferrell” and “Pitt?” Hollywood super-agents and movie studio executives. As far as I can tell from the thumbnail description of the film, Brad Pitt’s superhero isn’t even all that central to the movie’s premise. He gets killed off early on so that Ferrell’s mad scientist can create another superhero (voiced by Jonah Hill) who the mad scientist then has to kill off as part of his inevitable third-act redemption. I guess Jonah Hill isn’t sexy enough for the movie poster.

Now look at the only other descriptive line on the poster. “The Superhero Movie Will Never Be The Same.” That’s not a summation of the film, or even a teaser. It’s a pitch. It’s not even a good pitch. It’s a lazy, generic pitch about a pre-sold commodity. It tells kids—and parents—nothing about the movie.

Big-budget Hollywood movies suck ass. We all know this. But parents know that big-budget Hollywood animated movies suck even more ass. Regular Hollywood movies suck ass because the people who make them care only about which big names are attached to them. This has been the case for decades, but it wasn’t always the case with animated full-length features. As recently as 1991, Disney could make “Beauty and the Beast” with no high-powered A-list Hollywood talent at all. The Beast was frigging Robby Benson, for god’s sake. And he was great. So was Paige O’Hara as Belle. Their voices were suited to their characters. They weren’t distractions.

This started to change just one year later when the same studio, Disney, allowed Robin Williams to crap all over “Aladdin.” This was a perfectly decent re-telling of the “Arabian Nights” tale that ground to a complete halt every time Robin Williams showed up as the genie, speed-jiving some anachronistic topical shit lifted from his sweaty, cocaine-hangover HBO stand-up routines. This wretched performance should have stopped the whole A-list voice talent thing in its tracks. Instead things have only gotten worse. Much worse.

Exhibit A? “MegaMind.” What’s “MegaMind” about? It’s about Will Ferrell with a big head. And Brad Pitt. He’s a pompous and deluded superhero. Like, you know, a tabloid movie star. Tina Fey’s in it, too. She’s playing Tina Fey.

Now I’m not one of those guys who insist that Hollywood stopped making good animated movies after “Fantasia.” Sometimes A-list voice talent is perfectly suited to a character. There are probably few people on earth who can say “Hey! Howdy! Hey!” as convincingly as Tom Hanks. One of the best parts of “Despicable Me” is Steve Carell’s sputtering, consonant-cluttered take on Gru, the Cold War Russian-inspired bad guy. He makes the character funny and believable without going off all Chris Rock all over it.

For the most part, however, top-tier A-list voice talent is either A) bland or B) distracting. Brad Pitt is an excellent example of the former case. His voice isn’t distinctive in any way. His affectless, lusterless Every Joe voice consistently undermined “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” an otherwise entertaining adventure that tanked at the box office in 2003. Why was Pitt cast as Sinbad? Because, umm, he’s dashing and handsome. Unfortunately, all he provided for Sinbad was his flat voice. Same deal with Julia Roberts. Why is Julia Roberts and her utterly unremarkable voice cast in cartoon features like “Charlotte’s Web” or “The Ant Bully?” Got me.

On the other side of the spectrum is the distracting voice. Never mind the fact that you can’t get an animated feature into production anymore unless you have Chris Rock in it as a wise-cracking antelope or zebra. Even well-intended A-list voiceovers sometimes torpedo the movie in which they’re featured. In “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” George Clooney’s Mr. Fox is so George Clooney that he overshadows the character and every scene he’s in. Dreamworks, the same outfit that gives us Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Chris Rock as everybody else, once blew up its own “Shark Tale” by voice-casting Will Smith and Angelina Jolie, plus Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese in it. Martin Scorsese? Really? Does that make sense to anyone other than some utterly isolated studio exec?

You know what kids like? A good story. But they’re never going to get it from some crap like “MegaMind,” which budgets millions of dollars for Brad Pitt’s vocal cords and millions more for the right to emblazon the trailer with the words “Will” and “Ferrell,” while setting aside a paltry few grand for a story consisting of wink-wink insider jokes about the voice cast.

Oh, and don’t even get me started about this whole 3D thing.

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