Joseph Campbell's 'The Hero's Journey'

Categories: HeroJourneyMentorship

I can recall watching DreamWorks Animation’s ‘Megamind’ with my family upon its initial 2010 release in theaters. Despite only recently revisiting it for the second time in over a decade, I have discovered a newfound interest in not only the film’s message but in their main title character’s internal journey throughout the film. The classical structure for many stories, showcased in many story-driven mediums that we consume, was coined by Joseph Campbell as ‘The Hero’s Journey’. This broad template is both an interesting concept in dissecting the familiar stories we grow to love and share amongst one another and an inside into our human psyche.

The fundamentals of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is broken down into 12 parts, which is divided into three known acts. The first act consists of the hero living in the reality of their world as intended, encountering a call towards an adventure that strays from their reality, and resisting its notion at first before giving in.

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The second act starts from the hero meeting their mentor, who guides them throughout their journey, to where they make enemies, allies, and many trials along the way. The hero must then be faced with a critical decision, before finally facing their fears to gain the greatest treasure they now yearn for. The third act is the finale where the hero returns to their home-world as a changed individual.

For a case study, I decided to use the film ‘Megamind’ to compare the use of this embodied template.

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Although this structure mostly remains the same, there is an alteration to consider in mind as the story of Megamind is told from the perspective of an anti-hero. From the beginning of the film, we learn the daily routine of our main character, how he was conditioned into playing the role society pushed onto him, and the relationship between him and the presumed hero of the film, Metro Man. I would regard this section of the film as the Ordinary World for its clever use of world-building as it establishes the atmosphere of the main city, Metropolis. A sudden change in their normal reality is made when Megamind breaks out of prison to kill Metro Man with a laser beam and surprisingly succeeds. The next step in this first act, known as the Call to Adventure, is hard to pinpoint in this film as there are two separate times where I feel this occurs; once in the beginning when Megamind has an idea to create a new superhero to replace Metro Man and once more during the third act when he rises to the challenge to save Metropolis from the hero he had a hand in creating himself.

The Refusal of the Call also occurs during the third act, before the main climax, when Megamind refuses to stand up to the challenge of being the hero. In the Meeting the Mentor section, I would argue that while there is no traditional mentor in this film who trains Megamind for the fight, there is rather one who consistently brings out the good in him throughout the story and motivates him to push against the narrative he held for himself. There is no sense of Crossing the Threshold within the second act, other than Megamind committing to the creation of a new superhero, Titan, who in turn becomes an actual threat to him leading us into the Tests, Allies, Enemies portion of the story. Later, Megamind, acknowledging how dangerous his creation has become, approaches the Innermost Cave with his mentor and love interest, Roxanne, to a physical hideout of his former enemy, Metro Man, to attain any proper items necessary in defeating Titan. They are both shocked upon discovering that Metro Man is not only alive but had faked his death to live a life as a retired superhero and pursue other ambitions.

The Ordeal is met in this same location as, despite the many ideas Roxanne tries to conjure up to defeat Titan, Megamind already concedes to his internal perception that he is not worthy of being good. The Reward/Seizing the Sword moment comes during the third act as Megamind ventures out to save Roxanne from getting killed by Titan and realizes that she no longer deems him to be “bad”, which he often deems himself, as she tells him live via local television how much she needs him. The Return to the Road Back is when Megamind initially defeats Titan while disguising himself as Metro Man and has a moment of closure with Roxanne. Although not a single dialogue is shared between them in this instant, it is clear from the way she unmasks him in front of a large crowd and looks at him that everything that matters to him the most at that moment has come to fruition. The Resurrection is the second fight between Titan and Megamind, only this time Megamind is being true to himself and actively works to undo the damages he has done by stripping Titan of all his powers. Return of the Elixir is the end of both the fight and conflict in the story as Megamind is now viewed favorably in society and is with Roxanne, on top of receiving a statue crafted in his image.

Many elements of this template in part appear to gain inspiration from Carl Jung’s philosophy of the human psyche. I noticed many aspects of this story that showcased instances of the relationship between the persona and shadow. In both Megamind’s story and the overall structure of ‘The Hero’s Journey’, the main protagonist is often living in a world where they are a less version of themselves and have yet to reach their full potential due to societal expectations. They are trapped in a society that not only limits them but forces them to abide by the status quo towards a normal way of life. This Ordinary World is shown as a surface level of the conscious self and works opposite to the Special World, known for its unconscious chaos within the self. In Megamind, it is clear from the opening narration that Megamind and Metro Man were nurtured in a way that pushed them into becoming the molds of a superhero and a villain. Metro Man was adopted into a family with immense wealth, whereas Megamind was raised by a group of criminals in a prison. From their upbringings, Megamind was raised to believe that the police were ‘bad’ and criminals were ‘good’, while Metro Man was raised with an ego boost as he was capable of receiving whatever he wanted.

When they were both placed into the same educational institution, Metro Man was praised by his peers and his teacher for his powers, however, Megamind was almost immediately ostracized due to his blue complexion and his prison upbringing. Although he tried to use his gifted skills to create gadgets to impress his classmates, Megamind would always get punished for accidents caused by his inventions, while Metro Man would earn a gold star for tattle-telling. Looking back at their early life, it is no surprise that Megamind internalized how he was perceived by others and accepted the persona of being the villain. Throughout the film, Megamind strongly believes he is fundamentally a bad person, despite many times he showed signs of being good-natured. After he succeeds at defeating Metro Man and runs Metropolis, he grows bored of his success as it dawns on him that his sole purpose was to defeat his hero counterpart, Metro Man, because of his villainous persona. Without Metro Man, his existence as a villain is meaningless.

He quickly gains inspiration to create a new superhero while simultaneously building a relationship with Roxanne, both of which he conducts by disguising himself as a librarian for Roxanne and a space coach for Titan. When the truth comes out, it leaves a disastrous effect for Megamind. With Roxanne, he started to believe in his good nature and genuinely felt it was possible to redeem himself for her. With Titan, he felt a sense of purpose and excitement to having another rivalry. After Roxanne discovers the truth, she loses her trust in him and reminds him of all the wrong he had caused. While we, the audience, can see how much Megamind has changed as a person for the better with Roxanne, her disappointment in his deceitfulness is understandable. This rejection towards a promising companionship pushes Megamind into relapsing back to his villainous ways and provoking a fight with Titan, where he reveals the lies he told him as well. This ripple effect turns Titan into a vengeful being, who will later go on to kidnap Roxanne to taunt Megamind for his cowardness.

Metro Man does not at any point resurface back into his superhero persona after he fakes his death. He explains the reason he took on the role of being the hero of Metropolis was due to the fame that came with it and with time he grew tired of it, wanting to pursue other fields of interest to discover himself. He then finishes his explanation by encouraging Megamind into finding his true calling after stating that “there’s a yin to every yang. If there’s bad, good will rise up against it.”. On both aspects of the same coin, we see how their true nature and desires, in connection to the shadow, are undermined by their persona. A key thing to note is that many stories cannot survive well in the absence of the innermost cave. Without the protagonist attempting to take vital information from the innermost cave before returning home, that ‘hero’ is doomed to repeat the journey all over again until they learn their lesson.

Megamind was doomed to make the same mistakes and remain complacent in the lack of exploring his potential if he did not encounter positive reinforcement from both Metro Man and Roxanne. This concept of the Innermost Cave reminds me of the many struggles we face daily with addiction, bad habits, and relapses. The Resurrection that happens is metaphorical in how the hero must kill off their older self to be reborn anew. It acknowledges that if the hero does not resolve issues with the conquered villain, that villain will come after them with a vengeance, which is true for the climax. I interpreted this narrative as a meeting between the collective consciousness and unconsciousness, in which a lack of awareness of the shadow will lead to an internalized struggle. The Return of the Elixir excels at tying up the story nicely and providing important elements that Megamind deeply desired; companionship. In general, the elixir could represent growth, love, wisdom, or even freedom. Megamind’s greatest treasure was not only companionship but the desire to be accepted and to feel as though he belongs in society.

The achievement of inner change is a strong theme that occurs in every story that uses this template and it makes us connect with it on a deeper level. The introspection and subversion of the film and the portions of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ it chose to use and leave out are quite fascinating. I understand why this structure has been used for so long and why we still relate to it. Although the hero always finds their way back home at the end of the template, the story never ends there. It is an ongoing circle as neither the hero nor we are capable of absolute change overnight. Discovering your self-worth, improving yourself to reach your potential, and facing your demons are never-ending trials we challenge ourselves with every day. Balancing the threshold between our persona, our shadow, and our self is a cycle like a relationship between the moon and the sun. They may have nuances of opposing each other on a fundamental level, however, both elements are essential to the functioning of an emotionally mature being.

Cite this page

Joseph Campbell's 'The Hero's Journey'. (2020, Sep 11). Retrieved from

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