In a happy suburban neighborhood surrounded by white picket fences with flowering rose bushes, sits a black house with a dead lawn. Unbeknownst to the neighbors, hidden beneath this home is a vast secret hideout. Surrounded by a small army of minions, we discover Gru, planning the biggest heist in the history of the world. He is going to steal the moon. (Yes, the moon!) Gru delights in all things wicked. Armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays, and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, he vanquishes all who stand in his way. Until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential Dad. The world's greatest villain has just met his greatest challenge: three little girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes.
Directed by: Pierre Coffin
, Chris Renaud
. Starring: Steve Carell
, Jason Segel
, Russell Brand
, Julie Andrews
, Will Arnett
, Kristen Wiig
, Miranda Cosgrove
, Dana Gaier
, Elsie Fisher
, Pierre Coffin
, Chris Renaud
, Jemaine Clement
, Jack McBrayer
. Music by: Heitor Pereira
, Pharrell Williams
The second half of the summer movie season is now in full swing and I couldn't be happier. The first half of this summer has been downright infuriating with half-baked sequels and unnecessary 80s TV show adaptations that only serve to prove Hollywood is out of ideas. It seems the last vestige of original stories lies in animated films. At least, that is what this summer has shown me, as the best film so far has been Pixar's Toy Story 3.
Enter Despicable Me, film studio Universal's first foray into CG animation. They do a damn good job their first time out. What could've been clichéd and pandering is instead a charming, touching kid's film that should appeal to adults as well. Steve Carell voices the character Gru, the villain of the movie. There is no hero, however. Gru is not the antagonist, but rather, the villain we are meant to root for, as he is being challenged by a young upstart, Vector (voiced by Jason Segel). After Vector steals the Great Pyramid of Giza, Gru needs to one-up him to maintain his status as baddest villain of them all. He announces he will steal the moon. Unable to procure the much-needed shrink ray from Vector's fortress, Gru adopts three orphan girls to use as a distraction. Of course, the three girls are just as cute as buttons. Will they melt his heart? Despicable Me deals with some pretty mature themes for some entertainment directed towards the 6-10 year old set. Gru has a disapproving mother (voiced by Julie Andrews, in a great bit of casting against type) who (as we learn in flashbacks) was very emotional distant during his childhood. The movie also brings up the downside of growing older. Gru has tried many schemes, most of which has failed. The new villain on the block is suddenly a much more attractive option for the Bank of Evil (formerly known as Lehman Brothers, a great little wink to the adult audience), leaving Gru out in the cold. The orphans are not without their own issues, either. They are forced to sell cookies for the orphanage they live in, which is run by an uncaring woman, more interested in sales quotas than the children she is charged with guarding. It's all pretty heavy stuff, though the story deals with it in a very lighthearted manner.
This being a kid's film, the three girls work their way into Gru's heart and we see the guy open up a little. Most of this transition takes place at an amusement park. This particular sequence is one of the highlights of the film, showing us the transition gradually and in a rather original way. It was actually quite moving.
The movie throws in some great visual references to the movies that inspired it. Gru's megalomaniacal scheme echo some of the best Bond villain schemes. Gru himself looks like an animated version of the Bond villain Blofeld, right down to the indistinct Eastern European accent. I also saw some visual similarities between Gry and The Penguin, particularly the one Danny DeVito played in 1992's Batman Returns. Both have the long curved nose and while The Penguin in that film had an army of, uh, penguins at his disposal, Gru has a loyal following of minions, cute little yellow creatures that obey his every command. These little guys provide a lot of the comic relief, thanks to their gibberish language, and though they are in almost every scene, they do not overstay their welcome. Chances are these yellow guys will be getting their own film soon enough.
The film is being shown in 3-D. In this case, the filmmakers use the technology effectively, which is a welcome change to most other 3-D movies that have been released this summer. Unlike films like The Last Airbender, Despicable Me makes sure we notice the depth of field with some great set pieces throughout the movie and some very amusing gags during the end credits. There's a part where Gru and the girls are riding a roller-coaster where the 3-D added a thrilling dimension to the viewing. It was much more compelling than watching CGI globes of water being hurled around the screen.
There is not much I can say that is negative about Despicable Me. The film is formulaic, following a blueprint that is almost as old cinema itself. The Vector character gets just a little grating as the film moves forward. It's also hard to believe a guy who makes guns that fire various aquatic life is in any way threatening or fiendishly clever. But maybe I'm being picky.
Despicable Me is great family entertainment. While it is not quite Toy Story 3, it does offer a great, original story that doesn't pander to the audience, no matter what age. Indeed, I saw the movie at a 10:10 showing, where there was not a child under 16 to be found and almost every seat was filled. It kept everyone is stitches. If this movie is any indication as to what we can expect for the rest of the summer, things look promising.
Review by MovieManPat from the Internet Movie Database.