Children of the 1980s know few voices better than that of Chris Latta, who played the roles of both Starscream and Cobra Commander. (That’s like ninety percent of a Reagan-era childhood right there.) Latta, who was sometimes credited as Christopher Collins, was a voice, stage, and screen actor who died in 1994. Here are a few things you might not have known about him.
He knew both ends of the social strata in Springfield.
In the third episode of The Simpsons, Homer is fired from the nuclear power plant and becomes a social crusader. After successfully petitioning for a stop sign and, later, speed bumps, he takes on the plant. It’s here that we first meet Mr. Burns, the plant’s devious billionaire owner. To mollify the people of Springfield, Mr. Burns offers Homer a new job as plant safety inspector. Excellent.
Chris Latta was the first voice of Mr. Burns. Notably, he was also the first voice of Moe Syzlak, the local bartender. (Yes, he of the Flaming Moe!) Latta’s voice track for Moe was later swapped for that of Hank Azaria, though his work in that episode as host of America's Most Armed and Dangerous remains for all posterity.
Latta left the show early on to pursue his standup career.
He was a standup comic.
Latta began a career in standup comedy in Boston in the 1970s. He was a better standup comic than he was a poker player. According to the Los Angeles Times, he once had to play the same club in Boston for eight months to pay off a gambling debt. He said of comedy, "If you're an engineer and you've been a good engineer for a while, people don't say, 'Well, prove to us you're an engineer,' Comedy means starting from zero every time. The audience sits sedately and hopes to be amazed... Every time I go up on stage I find out if I'm funny again."
In 1990, he won the San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition.
He’s in the Transformers hall of fame.
You already know that on the cartoon The Transformers, he was the iconic voice of Starscream, the malevolent and duplicitous Decepticon lieutenant. You might not know that he was also the voice of Wheeljack and Sparkplug (Spike’s dad). In 2012, Hasbro inducted him posthumously into the Transformers Hall of Fame, which is an actual thing.
(In a bit of bonus trivia, Latta voiced an arms dealer named Old Snake in an episode of The Transformers that took place in the year 2006. It’s hinted that Old Snake, whose face is concealed throughout the episode, once led a massive terrorist organization. At the show’s end, Old Snake eludes capture and muses of his defeated, arrested client, “They simply don't make terrorists like they used to.” He then attempts a rally cry of “Cobra!” but breaks into a coughing fit.)
He was Cobra Commander. Really.
While Starscream never quite took leadership of the Decepticons (but for a few minutes during a coronation ceremony), Chris Latta did lead an evil army into battle. On the cartoon G.I. Joe, he voiced Cobra Commander, leader of Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.
This identity once spilled over into real life. (Well, realer life—am I right, Joe fans?) Latta said in an interview that he was called into the office of his son’s school guidance counselor. The school official was alarmed that Latta’s son kept saying that his father was Cobra Commander. “Well?” asked the counselor. “Doesn't that concern you?”
In an episode of Seinfeld, Latta played the role of a thug on the New York subway. In a bit of a meatier role, he played a homeless man on Mr. Belvedere. (Yes, Mr. Belvedere, who is definitely dead.) He was on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he played a Klingon starship captain. Latta was also on the superior Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Save your hate mail, Picardophiles.) For those keeping track, this means there is a direct link between Transformers, The Simpsons, G.I. Joe, Seinfeld, Star Trek, and Mr. Belvedere. It’s a miracle that the universe hasn’t divided by zero.
In 2010, the superhero craze was on the rise in the wake of such hits as Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man. which made it the perfect time to launch a silly sendup of the genre. And so came Megamind, an animated action-comedy about a clumsy villain whose world turns upside down once he actually defeats his superhero nemesis.
1. THE PREMISE WAS INSPIRED BY SUPERMAN.
Essentially, the pitch boiled down to "What if Lex Luthor defeated Superman?" Except instead of Luthor being a wealthy, vicious human, the film offers Megamind (Will Ferrell), a cowardly, odd-looking (but still bald!) misfit from another planet. Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) is more the Superman type, an alien from another planet who is strong, handsome, and can fly. It's easy for the people of Metro City to love Metro Man, whereas the oddball with the big blue head is instantly regarded as "other" and "bad." It's up to Megamind to prove himself, and find his true path.
2. IT WAS INTENDED AS A VEHICLE FOR BEN STILLER.
The original script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons was pitched to Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour Films, with hopes he'd star as its titular baddie. "[It] was written as a live-action movie," Stillerexplained in the spring of 2008. "But we thought it would work as an animated movie so we brought it to Jeffrey Katzenberg [CEO of DreamWorks Animation], and now we're in pre-production."
3. STILLER TURNED DOWN THE LEAD, BUT STILL PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN MEGAMIND.
Instead of voicing Megamind, Stiller opted to executive produce the movie—but he does pop by for a quirky audio cameo as the curmudgeonly curator Bernard, who works at the Metro Man Museum.
4. PRODUCERS WANTED ROBERT DOWNEY JR. FOR THE LEAD.
Riding high off the career revitalization of his live-action superhero hit Iron Man, Downey was game to bring his sarcastic charms to Metro City's menace. But scheduling conflicts ultimately killed the deal. So producers turned to beloved funnyman Will Ferrell, who brought a zany charisma to Megamind, and some crucial gags.
5. THE FILM CYCLED THROUGH VARIOUS TITLES BEFORE MEGAMIND STUCK.
In the fall of 2008, Stiller was teasing the movie as Master Mind. In that version, Megamind's longtime foe was named Uberman (a more overt spoof of Superman), but by spring of 2009, the title had changed to Oobermind, while Uberman had become Metro Man.
6. SEVERAL DIRECTORS TOOK A CRACK AT MEGAMIND.
"There were two or three sets of directors on the movie, each of which started making a different version of the movie before it went to someone else," illustrator/author Jason Porath, who helped with the film as an employee at DreamWorks Animation, told Mental Floss.
The project was kicked off by Gary Trousdale, who had co-helmed a string of Disney animated movies including Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Next, Kyle Jefferson and Cameron Hood, who'd directed the DWA short "First Flight," were brought on. But the final version of Megamind is credited to Tom McGrath, who had co-directed Madagascar and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa with Eric Darnell, and would go on to helm Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (also with Darnell) and Boss Baby. For their earlier efforts, Trousdale, Jefferson, and Hood ultimately received a special thanks credit on Megamind.
7. IT'S PRETTY COMMON FOR AN ANIMATED MOVIE TO CHANGE DIRECTORS.
In the case of DreamWorks's How To Train Your Dragon, credited directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought on about one year before the film's release. Then, the beloved movie about a boy and his pet dragon would have been unrecognizable to its fans. "At that point, I think Hiccup was like 9 or 10 years old, all the dragons could talk, and Toothless as we know him didn't exist," Porath tells us. "Those little bug-eyed tiny green dragons he fights for fish in the first movie, one of those was supposed to be his companion dragon. It was a lot closer to the book source material."
Thispractice extends far beyond DreamWorks: At Pixar, The Good Dinosaur went from Bob Peterson to Peter Sohn. Mark Andrews replaced Brenda Chapman on Brave, and Brad Bird took over directing duties from Jan Pinkava on Ratatouille. At Sony Pictures Animation, Hotel Transylvania cycled through six directors before committing to Genndy Tartakovsky.
8. OTHER VILLAINS VANISHED THROUGH PRODUCTION.
One version of Megamind had its eponymous fiend as part of a supervillain league known as the Doom Syndicate. To concoct this crooked but colorful crew of criminals, DreamWorks had an open call, encouraging its artists to pitch villain ideas. Story artist Ryan Savas has publicly shared his sketches for such quirky baddies as White Zombie, The Barista, The Ectopus, the Liberace-inspired Rhinestone, and Alec Baldwin, who can "hypnotize his victims with awesome acting skills." But as the script became streamlined (and the budget got tighter) the Doom Syndicate was cut from Megamind, meaning characters like Destruction Worker, a smoking skeleton, and "geriatric flame-wielder" Hot Flash never made it to the big screen—but they didn't disappear completely.
Three years after the film's release, DreamWorks unleashed the video game Megamind: Ultimate Showdownfor the Xbox 360 and PS3. Some of the Doom Syndicate characters reappeared here, including Hot Flash. But Porath told us the fiery old broad made her mark at the animation's offices as well. "Every year, DreamWorks Animation has a big Halloween costume contest," he shared. "And the winner one year was one of the producers who dressed up as Hot Flash."
9. SOME CHARACTERS WENT THROUGH RADICAL PHYSICAL CHANGES.
Concept art reveals that love interest/journalist Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) had a variety of longer haircuts before the filmmakers settled on her perky pixie cut. During his Uber Man days, Metro Man's Elvis-inspired look toyed with some more outlandish iterations, which involved fur collars, sunglasses, and plenty of glitter. Sometest sketches even showed Megamind with spiky hair. But the biggest transformation came to the cunning character's devoted sidekick.
Though fans of the film have come to know Minion as a fanged, talking piranha who gets around in a robo-ape mechasuit, his origins were once far less fantastical. Early concept art shows a version of the character imagined as a chubby man with a tiny jetpack.
10. STILLER WANTED TO SATIRIZE THE SUPERHERO GENRE.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
"This genre's been done so many times, that it's always interesting to try to find a postmodern version of it," Stiller told MTV. So he spearheaded a story about how people are not always what they seem.
Notably, this wasn't Stiller's first tme parodying superheroes and villains. In 1999, Stiller starred in the comedy Mystery Men, which followed a batch of wannabe superheroes as they face off with a nefarious foe who was way out of their league. Their powers included farting, bowling, being furious, and shoveling "well."
11. MEGAMIND UNDERWENT A GAG PASS TO MAKE IT EVEN FUNNIER.
In an informative blog post, Porath explains that a "gag pass" is essentially the part toward the end of production where filmmakers find opportunities to work in more jokes. In this case, the writers and storyboard artists crafted humorous dialogue and visual gags. Meanwhile, Ferrell was encouraged to improvise to bring some more of his unique brand of comedy to the mix.
12. THE FILM'S MARKETING CAMPAIGN ACHIEVED A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.
To promote the film,Ferrell invited all wannabe superheroes to suit up and join him for a party on October 4, 2010, just a month before the film's opening. But the event also set a Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of Superheroes. With 1580 costumed attendees, Ferrell and his friends made hero history, breaking the old record by 79 superheroes.
13. THERE'S AN ANCHORMAN EASTER EGG.
Toward the end of the movie, Megamind is channel surfing and crosses a news report about a water-skiing squirrel. A very similar story is covered in Ferrell's 2004 comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
14. MEGAMIND WAS HURT BY DESPICABLE ME.
Cruel timing meant that Megamind opened four months after audiences went wild for Universal's Despicable Me, an animated movie about a villain who goes good. While Megamind pulled in a decent $321 million worldwide, Despicable Me boasted $543 million, spawning sequels and a spinoff for its cuddlier Minions.
The closeness of their premises and release dates hurt Megamind with critics, too. Roger Ebert wrote, "This setup is bright and amusing, even if it does feel recycled from bits and pieces of such recent animated landmarks as The Incredibles with its superpowers and Despicable Me with its villain." USA Today's Claudia Puig was even more cutting, concluding, "Do we really need Megamind when Despicable Me is around?"
15. MEGAMIND FOUND REDEMPTION AS HOME ENTERTAINMENT.
Released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25, 2011, Megamind pulled in another $74 million in domestic sales. Readily available in this fashion, its popularity grew. Today, Megamind is warmly remembered and rewatched by fans happy to mispronounce "Metro City," "school," and "spider" like the lovable villain at its center. And despite its bumpy ride through production, it's fondly remembered by the fleets of artists who brought it to life.
You can see their enthusiasm in the blogs linked above, where they've proudly shared concept art and sketches. But perhaps Porath puts it best, declaring, "To put in perspective: almost every movie goes through radical shifts like this. Megamind had a bit longer journey than others, but not by much. I would by no means consider it an outlier. There were a phenomenal number of talented, funny people working to make it great, and it was a fun time at the studio. DreamWorks treated us all really well; I will never work for somewhere that took better care of me."
Get ready, anime fans. As part of an upcoming film festival, some of Japanese animation icon Hayao Miyazaki’s best-loved films will be coming back to U.S. movie theaters this fall.
Fathom Events and the North American animation distributor GKIDS are running a film festival devoted to Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's Tokyo-based animation studio. As part of a series of monthly events that began in June, the festival will be showing Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Earlier this summer, the festival showed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Due to the festival’s popularity, Studio Ghibli Fest is adding an extra day of showings, beginning with the August re-release of Castle in the Sky. Instead of two days of movies, there will be three screenings on three different days.
The films will be shown on the last Sunday of the month, with subsequent screenings the following Monday and Wednesday. The Sunday and Wednesday films will be dubbed in English, while the Monday showings will have subtitles. The festival runs until November 29.
Since it’s through Fathom Events, the films will be shown at hundreds of theaters around the country. You can check where screenings are available near you by entering your ZIP code here.
Miyazaki is technically retired, but he hasn't been able to resist the call of Studio Ghibli. He's scheduled to release Boro the Caterpillar, a film he's calling his last (several years after saying the same about 2013's The Wind Also Rises) in 2019. So maybe we can expect an extended Studio Ghibli Fest in a few years.