Directed by Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin. Voices by Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig. (2010, PG, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 9, 2010
Everyone knows that the villains are usually the most interesting characters in any movie. So the makers of Despicable Me were wise to cut to the chase and make the megalomaniacal Gru (voiced by Carell) the central character in this animated film. The world of Despicable Me is reminiscent of The Incredibles, where superheroes and supervillains participate in everyday life, raising their kids and keeping up their suburban homes just like ordinary mortals. Gru drives his ecological nightmare of a vehicle to get a cup of coffee, vanquishes the people ahead of him in line, and then returns with his latte to his creepy black-hued house that sits among a row of otherwise identical houses. The supervillains in this community are all trying to best one another: Snotty new-kid-on-the-block Vector (Segel) kicks things off in spectacular style by seizing the Great Pyramid of Giza and replacing it with an inflatable replica. Gru has some monuments to his name, but the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty once in his possession were stolen from Vegas rather than their natural habitats. So he now has set his sights on lassoing the moon, for which he will first have to steal a shrink-ray gun in order to downsize the moon to carry-on size. Part of his plan involves the adoption of three orphaned sisters: Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier), and Agnes (Fisher). Through their demands for him to accompany them to ballet lessons and read bedtime stories – as well as some flashbacks that reveal him to be a villain with justifiable mommy issues (as the voice of Gru’s belittling mother, Andrews plays deliciously against type) – Gru discovers his sensitive side. “Assemble the Minions,” Gru is wont to say when cooking up a new plot, and that’s a good thing, because his Minions are likely to become the real stars of this movie. Yellow, caplet-shaped, bespectacled beings swarm in excited enthusiasm, gurgling in some sort of fractionally understandable language that seems fitting, given the indeterminate Russian-Hungarian goulash of Gru’s accent. There is also Gru’s hard-of-hearing inventor (Brand), who is like the Q to Gru’s Bond and creates a fart gun when a dart gun is requested. Carell’s vocal delivery is entertaining: Beneath the character’s amusing accent, we can hear intimations of both an arch-criminal and a petulant child. The film’s 3-D effect belongs neither to the dazzling, pop-out variety nor the belated post-production conversion (all too common in these heady days of 3-D fever). Produced by Chris Meledandri (Horton Hears a Who!, Ice Age: The Meltdown), the CGI work was done by French special effects house Mac Guff Ligne. Pixar, of course, remains the gold standard for animated family films, but the Spy vs. Spy-style antics of Despicable Me and those lovable Minions probably guarantee that Despicable Me will produce some progeny.