Title: Despicable Me
Director: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig
Pixar may be at the top of the animated film business with DreamWorks Animation following right behind, but they better watch their backs because a new company, Illumination Entertainment, is about to get in on the game with its feature debut Despicable Me. The film can’t quite compare to the two seasoned studios most recent hits, Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon, but Despicable Me still is packed with top-notch animation, amusing characters and even a little heart, making the film and Illumination Entertainment warmly welcomed additions to the industry.
Gru’s (Steve Carell) just your average guy living in a quaint suburban town. Well, except that he walks around with a freeze ray in his pocket, has an army of minions and is determined to be the most notorious super villain the world. After an unknown evildoer manages to snag an Egyptian pyramid, Gru comes up with a plan to one up that feat, stealing the moon. But his evil operation won’t come cheap so Gru’s got to go to the Bank of Evil to apply for a loan. The institution he once viewed as a goldmine turns its back on him in favor of a younger villain, Vector (Jason Segel). The only way the bank will finance his venture is if Gru nabs a shrink ray first. It’s too bad that in the midst of doing so, Vector arrives, foiling Gru’s plan, taking the weapon for himself and storing it in his seemingly impenetrable fortress.
That’s where Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) come in. At first Gru dismisses them as an annoying trio of orphan girls trying to make a buck selling cookies, but then he realizes their snack-selling abilities could actually be of use to him. He adopts the gang and assigns them to deliver goodies to Vector. Little do the girls know, their new dad has replaced their tasty treats with cookie bots and is using them to get his hands on that shrink ray. Perhaps everything would have gone to plan if Gru would have accounted for a force greater than any evil, the power of three little girls just looking for someone to love them.
The basic premise is a winner. There have been countless films chronicling the battles of good vs. evil, but evil vs. evil? Just as creative as the plot are all the details within in it. Everything from Gru’s weapon-packed domain to jabs at popular culture – most memorably poking some fun at Lehman Brothers’ demise – are interesting, amusing and make for a richer story. The premise certainly gives Despicable Me a head start, but what keeps it running strong from beginning to end is the characters.
Gru makes for the perfect centerpiece. Even after seeing him pop a balloon in a poor kid’s face and unleash his freeze ray on customers keeping him from his morning coffee and muffin, there’s still something quite likable about him. Gru’s mean spirited days are packed with selfish acts of wickedness, but are kept in check so as not to make the character flat out unlikable. Flashback scenes put Gru in an ever better light providing a peak at how his childhood dreams to fly to space were crushed by his unsupportive mother. Once Margo, Edith and Agnes come into the picture, Gru’s harsh exterior begins to crack and heartwarming ensues. These kids are adorable. Actually, Margo is past the adorable years and comes across as a respectable young lady, but Edith, who prefers her pancakes in the shape of dead bodies and the fluffy unicorn loving Agnes earn a sweet giggle with everything they do.
Regardless of how well Gru and his little ladies work, it’s Gru’s minions that steal nearly every scene. Between their toy-like stature, barely understandable gibberish and goofy smiles, it’s impossible not to want more of the minions. They blow each other up, fly into the sky after ingesting anti-gravity juice and play dress up. Not only are they the prime source of comedic relief, they even show off a sensitive side when it comes to their three new sisters.
The sole character that doesn’t quite work is Vector. He’s established as Gru’s nemesis, but nothing more. At one point a pivotal connection is revealed between Vector and another character, but even that sheds little light on who this guy really is. Despicable Me could have actually done without Vector completely and kept the focus on Gru and his venture.
However, if there were no Vector there would be no flying ship chase sequence, which would be a shame considering the scene looks fantastic in 3D. Adding the third dimension to this film still doesn’t justify the technology’s widespread presence in the industry, but Despicable Me does have a nice handful of moments during which the extra dimension stands out quite nicely. Yet no matter how eye-popping the roller coaster ride is in 3D, it still feels as though it’s just a gimmick. The filmmakers even prove that point themselves by showing some minion footage as the credits roll during which the little guys see who can get the closest to the audience.
While this may seem like a shortcoming to an extent, it works well considering the material. Despicable Me isn’t a major tearjerker like Toy Story 3 nor is it trying to revolutionize the use of 3D like Avatar; it’s just a simple, fun and worthwhile film. You may not leave the theater pondering the meaning of life, but while you’re in it you’ll certainly have a smile on your face.
Story: A –
Voice Acting: A –
Overall: A –
By Perri Nemiroff