In my recent piece comparing “Gravity Falls'” Grunkle Stan to “Hoppity Hooper’s” Uncle Waldo, I wrote of the rarity of ‘sympathetic bad guys’ on kids-oriented cartoons. I should have more clearly stated TELEVISION cartoons, because I had previously written 1000 words for NBC News’ website on the convergence of “villain protagonists” in the movies “Despicable Me” and “Megamind” (btw, written before their premieres and without having seen either movie in full).

The bad guy who upstages the good guy is such a cliche that Disney has developed a Disney Villains merchandising franchise. Lovable rogues, anti-heroes and reformed villains are also common cartoon characters. But outside of horror movies and HBO, those who are evil, and proud of it, rarely play the lead role, let alone the title. The closest thing in recent years was “Monsters Inc.,” where the main monsters scared children because it was their job.

“Despicable Me’s” Gru is a James Bond-style evil genius, voiced by Steve Carell, looking like a mix between Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil and Uncle Fester from “The Addams Family” with a somewhere-in-Eastern-Europe accent. There’s no heroic adversary in Gru’s story to thwart him, just a Bill Gates-lookalike supervillain rival who upstages him at every opportunity (often with Spy vs. Spy-style cartoon violence), goading him into planning the ultimate cartoon criminal act: stealing the moon. When Gru enlists the aid of a trio of aggressively cute orphans for his nefarious scheme, they decide to adopt him. In any context other than a cartoon, the scenario would be totally creepy: a middle-aged single man living in a big spooky house with no obvious source of income adopting three little girls? But these kids really do see him as a father figure and will do whatever it takes to win him over, raising a whole other issue … Gru could be raising the next generation of supervillains.

Producer Chris Meledandri sees no problem with this villainous debut, declaring in an interview, “After years of taking my sons to the movies and having them leave the theatre with the villain as their favorite character, we decided to make a movie where the villain is the protagonist.” Plenty of discussion, detailed storyboarding and trial screenings went toward the goal of making Gru evil yet empathetic, with Meledandri concluding “It’s safe to root for someone to steal the moon.”

“Megamind” is straight out of the comic books, a Braniac-esque alien with a giant head and trendy blue skin. The trailer emphasized the relationship of supervillain Megamind (Will Ferrell) and his nemesis, superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt), yet the main storyline only begins after Metro Man is accidentally killed and Megamind attempts to create a new heroic opponent. (Note the word “accidentally,” without which this movie possibly could not have been made.) When the new hero turns evil, it forces a role reversal upon the title character. But the initial ‘shocking twist’ makes Brad Pitt in “Megamind” comparable to Bambi’s Mom, or even worse, Janet Leigh in “Psycho.” And that’s not a good comparison for an otherwise Dreamworks-style (light, jokey and celebrity-voice dominated) cartoon.

Still, these are animated features with no worse than PG ratings and by the time the closing credits run, both movies’ star villains will certainly have earned some redemption, becoming, if not really good, noticeably less evil. It’s also certain that some children will be disturbed, others confused, awkward parent-child conversations will ensue and outrage will generate from the easily outraged. But if you look close enough, you’ll find content some consider inappropriate in most classic cartoons — and all of the best ones. Having a supervillain for a protagonist is just a little more obvious example than most. Sometimes, the most valuable thing a movie can provide is a bad example.

It’s interesting to see what has happened since in animated movies, from “Wreck It Ralph” being about a video-game villain seeking redemption (and dealing with other characters even more ambiguous) to “Hotel Transylvania”, with one of the All Time Worst Villainous Characters, Count Dracula, as protagonist. It can be argued that Dracula as an evil figure has been highly downgraded over the years, with the help of cereal mascot Count Chocula, Sesame Street’s math-addict Count and cartoon Count Duckula.

BTW, “Hotel Transylvania” mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky was previously known for his “Samurai Jack”, the first “Clone Wars” cartoons and, of course, “Dexter’s Laboratory” (and I now realize where Gru got his odd accent… from little Dexter… and Dexter had a rival, named Mandark, who seriously resembled Gru’s rival… I wonder if Tartakovsky considers “Despicable” more despicable than most). At the time, there was less controversy over Dexter being a nerd stereotype than his sister DeeDee being a girly-girl stereotype. And I wonder what he thought of having TV’s second favorite “Dexter” after the debut of the Showtime serial killer of the same name. If I ever get to interview Genndy Tartekovsky, that’s what I’ll ask him about… but I digress.

While “Mastermind” wasn’t a big enough hit to greenlight a sequel, “Despicable Me 2” is on its way this summer.

The first “teaser” was pure fanservice (if you’re a fan of the little yellow Minions, and who isn’t?) as well as a potential preview of a 3D sequel (3Despicable?)
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The first “full trailer” was still mostly teaser-y, showing a full scene with a couple of the Minions dealing with… well, something…
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But this week, we finally got a trailer giving a serious look at what we can expect for the Further Mis-Adventures of Gru and Crew:
The trailer begins with a domestic scene with a very fatherly Gru…
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…but the peace is broken by a very dangerous – and capable – mystery woman (voiced by Kristen Wiig)…
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…who kidnaps Gru, and a couple Minions who tried to save him…
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…and deliver him to the secret headquarters of the Anti Villain League…
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…where he is rather involuntarily recruited to aid the good guys in a battle against a new bad guy…
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What could possibly go wrong?
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I mean, besides having Al Pacino provide the voice for the not-yet-revealed new bad guy…

While I will continue to ignore such ‘grown-up’ celebrations of badness as the TWO new prime time ‘serial killer prequel’ shows, “Bates Motel” and “Hannibal” (why DO these things seem to come out two at a time?), “DM2” is on my shortlist of movies I’m honestly looking forward to this summer. Does that make me a bad person?