Movie Review for Despicable Me

Sinister and Adorable

Despicable Me

Animation | G | 1 hr 35 min
UIP-Solar Entertainment Corp.
Main Cast
Steve Carell
It might be little strange to hear this about a film called Despicable Me, but here goes: this film is adorable. While it starts out relishing in its villainous conceit, much of that gives way to a heartwarming little story about a cranky old man learning to love, with all the clichés that go along with it. The film, then, isn’t everything that it could, but it comes pretty close. While it lacks the focus and sophistication of the best of this generation of animated films, Despicable Me is often cute, often funny, and brimming with heart. There are worse things to be.

Supervillain Gru (Steve Carrell) has just been knocked out of contention for the position of the world’s number one villain. Standing in his way: younger rival villain Vector (Jason Segel), whose daring heist of one of the pyramids has rocketed him to the top spot. Fortunately, Gru has an even more daring plot in mind: to shrink and steal the moon. Vector thwarts him at every turn, but Gru gets a chance at some comeuppance with the help of three young orphan girls he adopted to use as pawns. But the girls prove to be more than Gru’s match, and he soon grows comfortable playing another role: the girls’ father.

The most intriguing parts of Despicable Me explore the world within a movie. It’s a version the world where villains are a very real threat, and heroes appear to be in short supply. With little to no antagonism, the villains are free to live out in the open, their sinister lairs standing right beside picket-fenced suburban homes. And without an obvious moral opposite, the villains aren’t so much evil as they are ambitious and profit-driven. They go get loans like everybody else, trudging to the bank of evil (formerly Lehman Brothers) to prostate themselves to a man in a suit, hoping to get the funding that will get their schemes rolling.

This conceit provides the film with a surprising amount of satirical venom, but it shares a lot of time with a bunch of tamer, more conventional concepts. Much of the focus is given to the adorable plot involving the three orphan girls that Gru adopts, and how they come to melt their icy heart, dovetailing into flashbacks involving Gru’s unconventional upbringing. Some of the time is given to non-sequitur slapstick vignettes featuring Gru’s yellow pill-shaped minions. And what time is left is given to the flaunting of the 3D technology.

All of it is pretty good, really. The big made-for-3D sequences actually manage to do something with the effect. And the stuff with the kids and the minions alternate between adorable and funny. Adorable and funny is not a bad thing to be, but it does feel like the movie had a bigger world to explore. We don’t even get to see the other villains of the world, or what the title of number one villain actually entails. But the film is still rampantly likable. The retro-modern aesthetic is devilishly charming, and matched with Pharell Williams’ groovy musical direction, the film provides an endlessly watchable experience. There’s nothing to complain about in the voice department, either. Steve Carrell’s impeccable delivery could sustain two more films, and the supporting cast matches his energy line for line.

Despicable Me is really all about its heart. There are animated films more daring, more imaginative, and generally better crafted than this one, but few are as unabashedly sentimental as this one. Cynics will probably find it easy to poo-poo the whole endeavor, with its commitment to warm and fuzzy feelings. But I’m hoping that people aren’t that far gone yet. Though I think the film could use a little more sophistication given what it already has, it’s easy enough to just give in to the film’s enormous heart.

My Rating:

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