Thursday, June 16, 2011

PhD in Despicableness

After making some of my friends watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (to mixed, although overall disappointing reviews), I couldn't help but reflect on the music, plot, and devices over the next few days.

Without going into details as to how I think they were able to go about presenting the ending as chillingly as they did, or how tying the theme from "Brand New Day" into "Everything You Ever" was some awesome juxtaposition, or the tragicomedy genre was something I had never before heard of, I will say this: Has anyone noticed the similarities between Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and Universal's "Despicable Me"?

First, some background.  Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was released in 2008. The 42-minute straight-to-web production was written and directed by Joss Whedon (see: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Firefly," "Dollhouse; " guest directing: "The Office," "Glee;" movies, most notably "Toy Story") and tells the (musical) tale of a super-villain in the making. It stars Neil Patrick Harris (see: "How I Met Your Mother") and Nathan Fillion (see: "Castle"). Here's a short peek at my favorite song in the production:

So it's a story about a super-villain. Only, we're not rooting for the "good" guys - we're rooting for him. And to me, that's reminiscent of Despicable Me.

Horrible was released in 2008, during the writer's strike. Despicable hit theaters in 2010, so it would have to be Universal that was inspired by the notion of an evil protagonist in a superhero film. Both titles use synonyms (horrible and despicable) to describe the characters which are portrayed as anything but. Let's take a look at some details:

These bad guys love their Freeze Rays. So much so, in fact, that both Dr. Horrible has a song entitled "Freeze Ray," and Gru is quoted shouting, "Freeze ray! Freeze ray! Freeze ray!" right before the the audio track drops the movie title. (There should totally be a word for "saying-the-title-during-the-performance.")

Both villains haven't been too impressive in their previous heists. Dr. Horrible tried transporting gold bars (they ended up a little reordered on the molecular level), and Gru stole the Statue of Liberty..."the small one from Las Vegas."

Horrible seeks entrance into the Evil League of Evil, achievable only through mischievous feats. Gru wants a loan from the Bank of Evil, obtainable through demonstration of ability to do evil. Sounds like some very evil organizations.

The two plots, of course, differ greatly. But in premise, there's a lot of overlap. And why shouldn't there be? They're exploring the hip new super-villain-protagonist craze. Who knows, Marvel could really run with it. Until then, there'll be plenty more kids movies to test the waters. Anyone up for Megamind?



    I think one of the differences between the two is that Gru is shown as a despicable person and therefore a villain, who we find out has a heart of gold when events of the movie change him. Dr. Horrible, on the other hand, is "good" all along; he wants to rule the world because he thinks that's the only way to improve it. "It's not about making money, it's about taking money. Destroying the status quo because the status is not quo. The world is a mess and I just need to rule it." He only becomes a true "villain" when his own dreams are shattered.

    So yes, they are both portrayed as a super-villain protagonist. But there is a difference between "villain as protagonist" and "villain as good guy."

  2. I agree, they are motivated by different forces; social change vs. (pride?) - but still, by placing that "villain" as the hero of the story, the audience is left rooting for the "bad" guy.

    I don't think we can say that Dr. Horrible is a "good" guy; yes, he doesn't want to kill people, and yes, we see him humanized (relationship troubles, aspirations of meaningful existence), but still - we know he's "bad." He steals things - he tries to steal gold, he steals Wonderflonium. He wants to take over the world, against people's will - that's an issue. He admires Bad Horse - who presumably has killed people (considering he suggests assassination to ELoE recruits). No good guy is gonna get to the point where he "bring[s] you pain, the kind you can’t suffer quietly" - there is certainly something "evil inside" of him that's been "on the rise."

    These villains aren't good guys - they're bad guys. But we love them anyway because we get to see their story: their friends, their troubles, their dreams. It's not totally original; Oceans 11 comes to mind in terms of rooting for the thieves. But Oceans 11 wasn't about super-heroes and super-villains. This is a different phenomenon: The super-villain we WANT to see take over the world.

  3. "No good guy is gonna get to the point where he 'bring[s] you pain, the kind you can’t suffer quietly'"

    Sure they do, all the time. If someone feels righteous enough, it's possible for them to excuse any means necessary to reach success. "For the greater good," and all. "Necessary evil." Nobody goes into a fight thinking that they are fighting on the wrong side. It's only our values imposed on a hero that makes them a villain.

  4. If our values determine who is good/evil (and I agree they do), then I would think our values place "pain, the kind..." on the evil side. But I suppose that's subjective. The point truly being, cool new super-villain genre.

    It could be interesting to note HOW they make us love the villains, though. As you're hinting, they give them some of our values: Dr. Horrible doesn't want to kill, for example.


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