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Despicable Me

No grand achievement, Despicable Me nevertheless proves to be a satisfying hour and a half of fun for the family.

Despicable Me

Directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Two supervillains compete for the chance to steal the moon from the sky, but before Gru, the more experienced bad guy and the protagonist, can pull off his dastardly plan he must acquire a much-needed shrink ray from his nemesis Vector.  To assist in this theft, Gru adopts three orphan girls who have no trouble penetrating Vector’s impregnable fortress, but their involvement starts to threaten the mission when the same innocent sweetness that grants them access to Vector’s house starts to break through the layers of badness on Gru’s well-protected heart.

Despicable Me makes for fun and passable viewing.  However, like the anti-hero in the movie, it is competent but no real threat to competitors in the same field.  Perhaps the big disappointment here is that the wildly evil character the title promises never fully materializes.  Whereas the three Ghosts of Christmas had their work cut out for them in Ebenezer Scrooge’s case, the adorable orphan girls in this situation don’t have far to go before melting the heart of the freeze-ray wielding scoundrel who adopts them.  When all is said and done, Gru doesn’t seem like such a bad guy.  Granted he’s no Santa Claus.  His antics in the first few minutes are simultaneously entertaining and appalling, but his evil-doing doesn’t get enough play.  Plus, once you meet Gru’s mum, he appears more like a victim than a victimizer.  Making Gru so sympathetic and likable early on feels like a missed opportunity.  Had his journey into a lovable father figure taken a more twisted and complicated journey, his change might have registered more noticeably and his character would seem more fully realized.  This is a concern, of course, that won’t bug the younger viewers, but one that prevents this film from truly standing out.  Pixar and likeminded studios have trained moviegoers to expect a whole range of emotions from animated movies, but the offering of Despicable Me, not entirely empty of sentiment, is ultimately flat and unaffecting.

The minions are certainly the film’s most original contribution and its saving grace.  Their incomprehensible chatter and quirky behavior provide the movie most of its comedy.  Whenever scenes start to drag, rest assured one of these little yellow creatures lurks around the corner with a clever dance move or some slapstick craziness good for a guffaw or two.  Gru’s adopted daughters do their duty as darling little distractions, and his cantankerous mother (voiced, surprisingly, by the never-unlikable Julie Andrews) is a fantastic source of conflict and amusement.  These characters might have fit more comfortably into a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than a feature film, but that won’t stop them from endearing themselves to droves of youngsters.

Gru doesn’t really represent the sort of villain you love to hate, especially given Steve Carell’s impeccable voice acting.  You can almost hear Gru’s wicked sneers on Carell’s lips as he revels in every heavily accented line.  It takes a big personality to compensate for a fairly familiar plot device, and Carell delivers in a huge way.

No grand achievement, Despicable Me nevertheless proves to be a satisfying hour and a half of fun for the family, but the 18-and-over crowd might find it a little hard to appreciate without the company of at least one enthusiastic kid.

– Kenneth Broadway