The Good: Funny, Good animation, Interesting characters, 3-D is pretty impressive.
The Bad: A little more kid-oriented in the second half than I would like, Predictable
The Basics: Fun, funny and clever before the movie turns into a "family is more important than career" story, Despicable Me is still very much worth seeing.
It seems like some of the most fun screenings for me to go to are on the same night as the premiere of the latest Twilight movie. Two years ago, I went to a screening that fans realized would be the same theater as the midnight showing of Twilight and several tried to stay behind to sneak in. Last night, a similar thing happened, but I figured the odds any of the corrupt fans who stayed after the screening of Despicable Me who tried to get into Eclipse were very disappointed. The local theater seems to have cracked down for just that reason. Ironically, it seemed like the screening of Despicable Me I attended was packed with teens and tweens who would have rather seen Eclipse. Yesterday, I rewatched Despicable Me in 3-D and I have to say, I enjoyed it more with the spectacle than without.
I mention this because Despicable Me seems like it might have gone for the same age bracket as The Twilight Saga and while the movie starts with elements that are more adult and clever, it turns by the middle into a somewhat predictable movie more geared toward children and the young adults and adults who were lured in might well begin to feel like they were sold a completely different movie. Even so, Despicable Me fills the same essential niche that Monsters Vs. Aliens held last year (down to including a former Daily Show alum). This year, Steve Carell gets his chance to wow audiences with his vocal talents in an animated movie and he manages to do that as Gru. Unfortunately for him, the movie does not stay as tight on what makes it initially intriguing and it becomes a tougher sell in the middle and end.
Gru is a diabolical genius who is bent on world domination. He has a lab, minions (in this case, expendable little marshmallow people who do his bidding), and a whole array of weapons poised to help him thwart the legitimate powers. But he is held at bay by two things: his minions’ clumsiness and his new enemy, Vector. Vector is arguably the most powerful new supervillain in the world, an uber-geek (bearing a surprising resemblance to a young Bill Gates) and his heist of the pyramid astonishes the world and makes life difficult for Gru. Gru, however, hatches a new plan which will make him more menacing than Vector. Instead of confronting Vector himself, he decides he will steal the moon.
Unfortunately for Gru, his masterstroke is hampered by the arrival in his life of Margo, Edith and Agnes. The three little girls latch onto Gru and see him as a potential adoptive father and he begins to bond with them. Vector quickly realizes this new weakness and sets out to take out Gru and steal the moon himself using the kids!
Despicable Me is, in many ways, a slapstick comedy with over-the-top physical antics which could not have been pulled off in a live-action film. As a result, the animation works quite well for the absurd plot and it generally looks good. The characters have a fairly common stylized animation where the heads are smaller, noses and eyes are larger and the legs and arms are ridiculously thin. This allows for a very basic humor that comes from the way characters like Gru, who is a little thicker in the middle, move. As well, there is a completely unrealistic sense of movement when Gru runs, jumps and vaults. Fortunately for parents who are attentive to such things, the animation for the combat and ways Gru is nearly killed is presented in a remarkably child-safe way and the "violence" is all so over-the-top (giant missiles blowing up and only affecting the area around Gru) that children are likely to laugh and have a good time, as opposed to be genuinely freaked out by it.
The movie starts out with allusions that are more geared toward adults, establishing Gru as a cold, somewhat monolithic supervillain of the James Bond style villain. Gru just wants to be number one and his plans are always outdone or outright thwarted, leaving him jealous of Vector. But soon, the audience sees another side of Gru and that is where the humor begins to pick up as a series of abrupt turns, explosions and comedic miscalculations on the part of Gru.
Unlike Monsters Vs. Aliens, though, where the movie makes a transition into a film where the protagonist learns how to stand up for herself, Despicable Me accelerates as a very predictable story of a man who finds how to love life through children. The appearance of Edith, Agnes and Margo change Gru's perspective. What makes the film worth watching after they arrive is simple: Gru does not simply change into a good guy suddenly. Instead, as he tries to thwart Vector and steal the moon, he comes to realize that the kids are important to him. He does not stop being evil, he just starts using his evil to benefit the kids!
All along, Gru is hamstrung by his mother, who has undermined his confidence and is shown being horrible to him in flashbacks. She might be an archetypal cold mother, but Julie Andrews, who voices her, makes her seem less monolithic and actually fun. Gru’s mother looks virtually identical to Granny in Hoodwinked! The actresses voicing Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) do a decent job of making their voices sound as adorable as the animation and that enhances the reality of the unreal world of Despicable Me. Even Jason Segal, who plays Vector, is funny with his line deliveries and one can picture him doing the cocky dances of his character when he adds his voice to it.
The real acting triumph here - which is odd to say about an animated movie - comes from Steve Carell. Carell plays Gru and as a voice actor, Carell excels because he sounds unlike any of his other characters. This is not Max Smart as a villain, for the role Carell found an entirely creepy, lower voice that sounds deliciously like that of a cartoon villain. Carell's voice never slips into his own and the consistency and expressive quality of his vocals make it easy to fall in love with the character and to be impressed by Carell's acting abilities.
But even Carell is hampered by a somewhat predictable script which takes the emphasis off the clever allusions and slapstick humor and turns the movie into an attempted heartmelting. The change in tone is not bad, but it makes the movie into a more predictable morality play than it is originally set up to be. Still, those looking for something fun, entertaining and fairly safe for children this summer will find it in Despicable Me.
For another science fiction comedies, please check out my review of Land Of The Lost.
For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.