Review: Despicable Me's Charm Can Melt a Supervillain's Heart
by Jeremy Kirk
July 12, 2010
The second string animation business is a-booming. Studios are turning competition with Pixar, and the attention of kiddies all over the world, into buckets of cash, and thanks to those buckets and that cash, the onslaught doesn't seem like it is going to subside any time soon. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, you get stale jokes, jerky animation, and a cavalcade of recognizable names and voices. Then, other times, you get something like Illumination Entertainment's Despicable Me, a film that may play to the younger crowd a bit much but finds its way in delivering the charm and the jokes with equal measure.
It does have that cavalcade of voice talent I spoke on, though. Steve Carell provides the voice for Gru, a villain in a world where villainy is a full-time and accepted job. Feeling the pressure from the master criminal world (someone has just stolen one of the Pyramids of Giza), Gru steps up his game and sets a plan to steal the moon in motion. First, though, he must steal a shrinking gun, which currently resides in the possession of the new kid on the criminal block, Vector, voiced by Jason Segel. In order to do that, Gru solicits the aid of three orphans. Before you can yell "Cover your heart," Gru finds his icy demeanor cracking for the sweet girls, and, as expected, his work suffers for it.
Second tier, though it might be, Despicable Me does a fine job in every regard found here. While the animation may not be on par with the best the big dogs have to offer, it is anything but inadequate. Serviceable would probably be the best way to describe it. The characters move with an abundance of fluidity. Their design is top-notch, as well, with each character having their own, distinct look.
I say that with the exception of Gru's minions, little, yellow, walking batteries some with one eye, others with two. They all look similar, but that's the idea, and their presence offers some of the film's best uses of its comedic timing. Don't get me wrong. Gru, Vector, and most of the other characters found throughout the film (in particular Dr. Nefario, Gru's scientist assistant who notices the distraction the orphans are causing and who is voiced by Russell Brand) all provide loads of decent humor. But you know when the minions are on screen the laughs are going to hit left and right and pretty much on point every time. The jokes offered are more than the standard prat-fall, someone-getting-hit-with-something humor you would typically find in this style of film, and much of it comes off more genuine than you might expect.
What really delivers with wholehearted genuineness is the film's charm. Each of the three girls are sweet in their own right, and understand the warmth and connection they share with Gru. Much of the film's plot points are predictable from a mile away. Gru makes a serious point he does not kiss good night, so it's not hard to imagine where that is headed. But, the way everything plays out and the heart put into the animation and characters makes it all the more sincere when cliche pays off. Gru's character progression and his relationship with the orphan girls is acceptable because of how honest it comes across even if we've seen it time after time before.
This level of sincerity is not something easily conveyed in the animated medium. Films dating back long before most of us were even thought of have attempted such honesty and failed, and, while it shouldn't come across that Despicable Me achieves the impossible, it should be noted it succeeds in an extremely difficult area when it comes to animated film. The sincere nature of Despicable Me should be just enough to distract wandering parents' thoughts of what might, actually, happen to the planet should the moon simply go away. It's a plot problem, a big one, but one easily tossed aside as fodder for a kid's film.
Which is what Despicable Me really is - it is more for the children in the audience, but that never has to mean the adults have to be bored. They shouldn't be, as the film delivers just enough wham-bam comedy to keep their interest intact.
Light on its feet and fluffy all around, Despicable Me is second string animation done at its most successful. While the basic plot lines might be roads we've traveled many times before, the adventure of getting from point to point is made all the more enjoyable by the film's wit and guile. It is full of so much heart and innocent comedy from all aspects, that it seems pretty evident it alone could break its way through the cold heart of the mast villain at the center of it. At one point in the film, one of the girls wins a stuffed animal at a carnival. She grabs the toy and runs off screaming, "IT'S SO FLUFFY!" with all of her might. She may as well be talking about Despicable Me, and she'd be absolutely right.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10