© 2010 Ray Wong
This summer, animated features seem to have a better time at the box office than live-action. As we speak, Toy Story 3 is still breaking records. Despicable Me, from Universal, is laughing all the way to be bank as well.
Gru (Steve Carell) is a super-villain on the verge of doing something really big, and he also considers himself despicable, living in a small town where people seem to leave him alone. He's mean to children (but never animals). After a rival villain stole the Pyramid of Giza, Gru vows to commit the crime of the millennium by stealing the moon.
But first, he needs financial support. Banker Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett) would only commit to the plan if Gru could procure a shrinking ray gun. Gru does just that, but his rival, Vector (Jason Segel), steals the ray gun from him. To get it back, Gru concocts a plan by adopting three orphan girls to help him: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Caier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher).
Little does Gru know his life is going to change because of these three little girls. While Gru proceeds with the plan, he's constantly distracted with his "parenting" tasks. Little by little, Gru softens up while his minions and partner Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) are waiting for him to act. Gru must choose. Or does he?
Steve Carell (Date Night) has had some bad luck with his live-action movie career, but as the voice of Gru, he's charmingly droll with a fake Russian accent. Gru is a man of few words, but when he talks, you listen, and we know underneath the tough and rough exterior, there's a softie, and Carell does a fine job conveying those emotions, and the animators succeed in using his personality to come up with the interesting character that is Gru.
Jason Segel (I Love You, Man) is funny and unrecognizable as the voice of Vector, Gru's nerdy, Bill Gates-lookalike rival. Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek) also does an interesting and unrecognizable voice as Dr. Nefario. Both complement Carell's performance.
Will Arnet (Jonah Hex) joins the cast as Mr. Perkins with his trademark sharp tongue. Kristen Wiig (MacGruber) is spirited as the mean orphanage director. Julie Andrews (Shrek Forever After) is marvelous as Gru's disapproving mother. The three little girls are adorably voiced by Miranda Cosgrove (The Wild Stallion), Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher (Medium) -- it's nice to see them using real children's voices for these roles.
Written by Ken Daurio (College Road Trip), Sergio Pablos and Cinco Paul (College Road Trip), the story is a big fantasy not necessarily anchored in reality (by comparison, Toy Story 3 is based on reality even if it's about talking toys). It has the zany energy and imagination of Loony Toons. The story is rather simple and straightforward, and there's a Coyote and Roadrunner feel to the cat-and-mouse game, especially between Gru and Vector. The plot is a series of over-exaggerated events that requires a huge dose of suspension of disbelief. By and large, for a "cartoon," that works.
The strength of this movie is the characters, most of whom well drawn and lovable, or at least entertaining. It reminds me of Pixar's Monster, Inc. -- both are set in somewhat a "fantasy" world, and the characters are equally zany and quirky. Gru is pointy, hulking, yet lovable. The girls are soft and cute and cuddly. The supporting cast is witty and funny. But the real stars of the movie are the "minions" -- yellow, spongy, goofy "things" with short limbs that are designed for merchandising heaven. They are the source of much of the amusement and giggles.
However, I feel that the filmmakers are trying so hard to make us love and adore and want these minions that it feels manipulative. In fact, much of the story feels manipulative. We're made to want to keep saying, "Awww" every few minutes. The story also is extremely simple and without the complexity or layers of Toy Story.
Despicable Me is a cute and adorable animation, mostly suitable for young kids (age 5 to 14) and adults who have kids or are kids at heart. It's simple pleasure, but a bit too simple for my taste. As an adult, I like my animation a bit more sophisticated while entertaining (something Pixar has been doing all these years). There's really no reason to dumb it down just to entertain the young kids. And I also rather resent the fact that they try to manipulate us every inch of the way. All right, I don't mean to be snippy; it really is cute and fun. Perhaps it's just the despicable me speaking here…
Stars: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Writers: Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos, Cinco Paul
MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor and mild action
Running Time: 95 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Animation – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.9 out of 10