Like most youngsters, I used to love sitting in front of the television watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Back then, the options were extremely limited by today’s standards. Nevertheless, that small weekly time block offered a treasure trove of entertainment from Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., and others. In those shows, it was easy to distinguish the heroes from the villains. Take, for instance, the 2D animated television series Wacky Races. Dick Dastardly and Muttley, in the Mean Machine, were Team Villain, while the sweet-natured southern belle Penelope Pitstop, driving the Compact Pussycat, and the gentlemanly Peter Perfect in the slick racer, were from Team Hero. How did a young kid know which team the characters were on? First, the characters’ names were a dead giveaway, as were the names of their vehicles. Also, the characters looked their part: Dastardly, with the extended, enlarged chin and long, narrow mustache; Penelope, with the cute pink outfit and long, blond hair. In fact, identifying the hero and villain in these cartoon series was easy: Wile E. Coyote, bad; Road Runner, good. Ditto for Sylvester and Tweety. And the list goes on.
At the theater, Disney certainly had the hero/villain (protagonist/antagonist) formula down to a science. Snow White and her seven dwarf friends were good, while the Wicked Queen Grimhilde was evil (just in case you didn’t catch her full name). Cinderella and Prince Charming, good; the evil stepsisters, bad. The cute Dalmatians (all 101 of them), good; Cruella, bad. Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera, good; Shere Kahan, bad. Simba, Aladdin, and Ariel, all good; Scar, Jafar, and Ursula, all bad. Even in last year’s The Princess and the Frog, the lovely, hard-working Tiana was good; the scheming voodoo magician Dr. Facilier was not.
There were certain things you could count on when it came to the heroes and the villains in animated series and features. But in this month’s CG movie Megamind, the role of hero and villain is not clear-cut. When Megamind and Metro Man land on Earth, the former becomes an outcast and the latter a beloved hero. After many attempts, Megamind defeats his enemy. Out of sorts, he helps create another hero, who ends up becoming more of a schemer than Megamind ever was. With a plot twist like this, the animators were challenged with creating a likeable villain—no easy feat when the baddie eliminates the hero during the first few minutes of the film. (See “Mind over Matter” on page 10 for a detailed look at how the characters for the film were created.)
In another character twist, Disney mixed things up a bit when re-telling the fairy tale of Rapunzel. In the Brothers Grimm version, a prince courts the beautiful girl with the long hair, but in Disney’s CG animated film Tangled, Rapunzel is the character with the royal blood, and it is a thief, not a prince, who “rescues” her from the tower—though it is clear who is really in charge. (See “Once More with Feeling” on page 24 to see how this touching tale was crafted.)
The last hero/villain story in this issue contains many unpredictable plot twists. But in the video game Blood Stone, British agent James Bond takes on yet another supervillain, this time within an interactive game environment (see “Like a Rolling Stone,” pg. 16). No questioning who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy here.
Today’s digital artists are challenged with blurring the lines between good and evil, using digital technologies to endear audiences to those who, in the past, would have been difficult to embrace. So who’s the hero now? These CG artists and animators.