Thanks to M3GAN linking its character design to kids’ movies, its main villain goes from being just another creepy doll to being iconic.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for M3GAN!M3GAN might seem like just another horror film about a creepy doll, but its villain’s design has become iconic thanks to inspiration from kids’ movies. As a playmate created by Allison Williams’ Gemma, M3GAN is meant to evoke positive feelings of friendship and love, so it’s not surprising that she looks like an animated character that might have walked right out of a Disney or Pixar movie. Gemma’s niece Cady bonds with her because her innocence belies a homicidal streak yet to be awakened.
There are certain kids’ movies that leave an impression specifically because their character design is computer-generated, making them appear both realistic and outside the realm of reality at the same time. Most of them don’t seem like they could hurt you, which is what makes it so unexpected when M3GAN sings, dances, and kills her way through the plot with child-like glee. Kids’ movies where character designs take realism just a little too far, like the ones seen in The Polar Express, give her antics a particularly unsettling edge.
M3GAN’s Polar Express Design Parallels Make The Character Even Better
The Polar Express has a character design that comes across as both child-friendly and also slightly creepy, making it the perfect inspiration for a villain like M3GAN. The movie’s style has an uncanny valley effect, where the more realistic the characters are meant to look, the more they look unnerving, with something “not quite right” about the way they interact with one another. It’s not surprising then that M3GAN’s executive producer revealed a connection to Polar Express, describing the murderous doll as “the real-life version of a Polar Express character.”
Despite having a musical number with Tom Hanks and a lot of gorgeous seasonal scenes, The Polar Express wasn’t a huge box-office success because of its computer-generated characters. Their wide eyes and puppet-like limbs looked unnaturally strange, but that sort of design works for a character like M3GAN. She shouldn’t really exist, but she’s been created to be a child’s friend and playmate, so there’s already something off-putting about her from the moment she opens her big, life-like eyes.
How M3GAN’s Design Being Like A Kid’s Movie Actually Makes Her Scarier
Taking inspiration from kids’ movies like The Polar Express, where characters that shouldn’t exist have been made to look as realistic as possible, makes an entity like M3GAN scarier. It reflects attempts in the real world for children’s toys to look as authentic as possible through Artificial Intelligence, bridges the gap between fantasy and reality, and helps M3GAN succeed where the Chucky reboot failed. The fact that M3GAN not only looks innocent but like a real little girl challenges everything from gender expectations to how something should be punished that seems so life-like.
With a design based on kids’ movies, M3GAN would be approachable and non-threatening. However, being based on The Polar Express, in particular, makes her just the right amount of unsettling to help ground the haywire AI plot M3GAN uses. With her too-big eyes, M3GAN seems synthetic enough for everyone around her to drop their guard, while her appearance is life-like enough to make her a terrifying villain. The choice to base her off characters in kids’ movies is not only perfect in the context of the film, but it also makes clever commentary about humans’ ability to find just about anything disturbing.