Movie Review: Despicable Me
By Matthew Huntley
July 18, 2010
What Despicable Me lacks in humor it makes up with heart. Universal’s first computer animated feature doesn’t have the ingenuity of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 or the slapstick pizzazz of Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but it’s just as loveable. It may take a while to get going, but it gets better with each passing scene. By the end, it has won our hearts.
Despite the movie’s prolific ad campaign, I didn’t know what to expect from it. Its story turns surprised me, and even though I could anticipate its final destination, I didn’t know how it was going to get there. This aspect proved refreshing.
Other novel qualities include the character designs, which are mostly caricatures with extreme features. This is especially true for the movie’s hero (or should I say villain?), Gru (voiced by Steve Carell). With his skinny legs, wide frame, bald head and pointy nose, he could pass as the brother of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.
And, like Dr. Evil, Gru is one of the world’s leading villains, or at least that’s what he thinks and what he tells his staff of little yellow creatures called minions, who have their own unique language and aid Gru in stealing some of the world’s most prized possessions - although the Las Vegas versions of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower can hardly be considered prized possessions. That’s why Gru is shocked when another villain steals a whole pyramid from Gaza!
Because Gru won’t settle for second best or risk the Bank of Evil cutting him off, he sets his heart on shrinking and stealing the moon. All he needs is the shrink ray currently being held by his rival, Vector (Jason Segel), who lets the said pyramid sit idly in his front lawn. To obtain the ray, Gru adopts three girl orphans - Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) - because they sell cookies and provide Gru a way in to Vector’s impregnable lair. Much to his surprise (but not ours), the girls affect Gru in ways that give him a new outlook on life. Instead of villainy, he comes to realize fatherhood might be a better profession.
The movie’s best scenes show Gru adjusting to parenthood. I liked his smug, confident look as he served the girls lunch in dog bowls; or when he took them to an amusement park and won them stuffed animals; and when he read them a bedtime story. These scenes overshadow the more blatant visual gags like Gru trying to break into Vector’s house or the minions dressing up in hat and wigs to go shopping, all of which played like Saturday morning cartoons. Kids will surely enjoy it, but I wish the screenplay had gone a less traditional route and not made Gru’s obsession with the moon the primary focus of the humor. The villain vs. villain angle is amusing, but Gru’s interaction with the girls is much more interesting and has much bigger payoffs.
Many animated features star high-profile actors simply because they’re popular, but the voice casting of Despicable Me is more inspired. Steve Carell does a surprisingly strong (and funny) foreign accent, and because Gru’s eyes and facial features match Carell’s, it was easier to accept him embodying the character. Carell did more than lend a voice; he provided Gru a certain behavior, and it was a pleasure to watch.
Despicable Me won’t go down in any history books, but it’s sweet and jolly, proving computer animated films can be successful without talking animals or inanimate objects coming to life. It works more on a human level, and had it really played up the familial aspect of the screenplay instead of the routine cartoon stuff, it might have been more memorable. Still, it’s a cute and heartfelt, and like some of the best computer animated features, it can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.