Despicable Me

Despicable Me

Gru doesn't quite get the concept of mooning his audience.

(Universal) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Mindy Kaling, Danny McBride, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Pierre Coffin. Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin

It’s tough being a world-class villain. Not only do your grand schemes of world domination need to be extravagantly profitable, you always have to fight off some wet-behind-the-ears supervillain who wants to earn a reputation at your expense.

Gru (Carell) is as despicable as they come. He will make a child a balloon animal only to pop it; he’ll use his freeze ray on patrons in front of him in the line at Starbucks, and he’ll steal the Times Square Jumbotron to watch football games on. Unfortunately, there’s a new kid in town, a kid called Vector (Segel) and he’s outdone Gru by stealing the Great Pyramid at Giza.

This heats up Gru’s competitive juices to the boiling point, so he feels a need to one-up his new competition and his answer is elegant in its simplicity – Gru plans to steal the moon. Aided by his vaguely Twinkie-like Minions and his curmudgeonly scientific aide-de-camp Dr. Nefario (Brand, sounding nothing like Aldous Snow), all he needs is a shrink ray and a rocket. The shrink ray he can get – it’s the rocket that’s a problem.

Like any enterprising businessman, Gru goes to the bank to get a loan from the bank, but he can’t exactly walk into the nearest Citibank with a business plan that involves stealing a celestial body. Luckily for Gru, there’s always the Bank of Evil (in one of the film’s cleverest jokes, the front of the bank is emblazoned with “Formerly Lehman Brothers”). Unfortunately, Mr. Perkins (Arnett), the humorless blob of a bank president, is not willing to part with the money. You see, most of Gru’s grand schemes have, while successful, not been terribly profitable. However, if Gru can show the bank the shrink ray, they’ll give him the cash.

Easier said than done. The shrink ray is being tested by a Southeast Asian weapons laboratory, but Gru being nefarious and direct, steals the device by sawing a hole in the roof, sending a minion to manually operate a giant claw to pick up the ray gun and jet away. Hunky dory until Vector shows up to cut a hole in his roof.

Gru needs to retrieve the shrink ray from his archnemesis but infiltrating his modern, heavily defended lair proves to be impossible. However, Gru hits upon the scheme of sending in three orphans – Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Fisher) – to infiltrate the lair under the guise of selling Vector some cookies (cookies are Vector’s Achilles heel). Gru adopts the young tykes, but finds them to be major distractions, highly irritating and somewhat annoying. Can he rein in his young accomplices to carry out his diabolical plot, or will he succumb to the charms of the little girls?

These days computer animated features are a dime a dozen and audiences are demanding more sophistication and better stories. While Pixar continually delivers, the other animated studios are less consistent. This is Universal’s first computer-animated feature and the first in their partnership with Illumination Entertainment (who also have Hop and Flanimals on deck for 2011). So how did they do?

Well, there’s definitely a learning curve. Some of the movie works, but other places not so much. In checking out other reviews, I was amazed that most critics found the last half hour to be the best part of the movie; quite frankly, I was more impressed with the first part, when Gru is acting very much like the missing member of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As the movie progresses, Gru gets more father-like and softer, losing much of the edge that made him notable early on.

Still, Carell does a good job with the character, vaguely channeling the Soup Nazi. The evil Gru is interesting, but it’s the Minions who steal the show. Certain to become pop culture fixtures for the younger set (in the same way Oompa Loompas did a generation ago), they’re cute and speak in funny voices, with a Looney Tunes-like tendency to do spectacular harm to one another. Don’t be surprised if they show up on a Saturday morning cartoon show in the near future.

The movie gets disappointing towards the end. It’s standard animated feature fare of the heart of a bad guy being melted by adorable little girls. That’s the type of thing Disney was doing 70 years ago. By the time the movie ends, Gru is bestowing good night kisses on his Minions. I can’t see a reason to see a sequel to this; Gru’s too soft, too ordinary. The more despicable Gru is, the better the movie is.

REASONS TO GO: The minions are awesome and Carell makes Gru memorable. There are some moments that are laugh-out-loud funny.

REASONS TO STAY: Typical animated feature fare; definitely skewed towards a younger crowd.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has a PG rating due to rude humor but in my book, it’s perfectly fine for children of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The soda cup that the Carnival Barker is drinking from is based on the ones used at Walt Disney World, which has no midway games.

HOME OR THEATER: This is one of those rare instances where a movie is actually enhanced by 3D; unless you have a big screen 3D television, I would suggest a trip to the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

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