Despicable Me (2010)
Director: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Synopsis: When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds their love is profoundly changing him for the better.
Given that it’s so often the villain in animated (and live action) movies who lasts longest in the memory, it’s hardly surprising that someone would hit on the idea of having a super-villain as the lovable hero. Of course, bad guys don’t come any less threatening or more kiddie-friendly than Gru in Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me. He’s voiced by Steve Carell (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), who claimed he was aiming for a combination of Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi, but who just as often sounds like Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic creation, Borat, and the most frightening thing we see him do in Despicable Me is pop a kid’s balloon dog in his introductory scene.
Gru’s status as the world’s greatest super-villain is under threat from the bespectacled warm up suit (not pyjamas) wearing super-nerd Vector (Jason Segel) whose latest feat is too steal an Egyptian Pyramid and replace it with an inflatable version. Stung into action by Vector’s audacity, Gru decides he will steal the moon, but he’s unable to secure the necessary funds from the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers) until he obtains the shrink ray required to reduce the moon to a stealable size. But when Gru steals the ray gun from the research facility in which it was developed, Vector promptly steals the weapon from him and stores it in his heavily-fortified fortress.
Gru’s efforts to gain entry into Vector’s fortress are foiled with ease, but when he sees three little orphans girls selling cookies gain entry, Gru decides to adopt them and use them to help him find a way in. These three kids, of course, are the instruments of Gru’s eventual departure from the dark side, and are about as cute as aninmated kids can be without having adult’s reaching for the sick bucket. The youngest — and by far the nearest to tipping the scales over into an unbearable case of the cutes — is Agnes (Elsie Fisher), who has a strange fixation on unicorns; next comes the rebellious Edith (Dana Gaier) whose woollen-knitted cap looks more realistic than many of those seen in live-action movies, such is the quality of the computer-generated animation. The oldest sister is Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), the quickest to realise that all is not right with their new guardian.
With the help of his sidekick, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and his minions, a large gang of robots who fill the cute-void when the sisters aren’t on screen, Gru develops some cookie robots for the girls to deliver to Vector’s lair so that he can steal back his shrink ray gun and resume his plan to steal the moon. However, being in the presence of three such lovable young tykes soon begins to melt Gru’s heart, distracting him from his audacious plans, much to the annoyance of Nefario.
There’s no denying the wit of Despicable Me, and as always, the animation is often astonishing to behold, but the movie doesn’t really tread any new ground in a genre that grows more overcrowded with each passing year. There’s a refreshing lack of of-the-moment pop culture references which means that Despicable Me may well remain fresh long after other similar movies have started looking a little stale, but it seems to borrow its influences from a rag-bag variety of sources. Gru strongly resembles the British comic character Grimly Feendish, while his mother (Julie Andrews) looks like one of the matrons from Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons, and Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett — Series 7: The Contenders), the manager of the Bank of Evil, seems to be based on Dilbert’s boss.
While the popularity of Despicable Me remains something of a mystery, it’s a fairly entertaining movie, moving fast over its brisk running time and providing some genuinely funny moments which will keep parents amused. Kids, of course, will love it…