Despicable Me (2010)
Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett and others
There have been several animated movies about villains and superheroes of late - The Incredibles (2004) and Megamind (2010) being notable examples - so Despicable Me uses an already well-covered trope as its plot handle. Here Steve Carell plays arch-villain down on his luck, Gru. Gru needs to pull off a big theft to stay in the game. He has already been out-played by new kid on the block, Vector (Jason Segel) who has recently stolen one of Egypt's great pyramids. Gru therefore must aim high, and he goes about as high as it's possible to get with his plan to shrink and steal the moon. As part of his diabolical plan, Gru adopts three young girls, using them as a front to deliver cookie-bots into Vector's lair, in order to help him steal the Shrink Ray. Of course, this being a family film, the sweet nature of the three wee girls in Gru's charge soon begin to change his villanous heart.
So, nothing particularly new and fresh there, you'd think. And, sadly, you'd be right. The idea of competing super-villains is quite fun, but then there aren't enough of them here. It would have been nice for Gru to have more villains to play off than Vector. Given that this could be seen as 'high-concept' stuff, the film really doesn't do a huge amount with its central premise. The story is played out to expectation and the end is pretty run-of-the -mill. However, that's not to say that the film is dull or hasn't got great moments of comedy. (By the way, as an aside, interesting to note that Gru's car looks almost exactly like a Cybermat from Troughton-era Doctor Who). Gru's minions provide much of the comedy; these wee genetically-engineered critics happily fight, mock, blow each other up and generally run around in a mischevous manner all through the movie. Also, they look strangely like the 80s Weetabix characters that I remember from my childhood. The voice talent on display is also terrific. Steve Carell is a great comic performer and Will Arnett can do no wrong in my opinion. (I urge you to watch Arrested Development in which Arnett plays a failed stage magician.) Russell Brand is also suprisingly good as elderly super-villain Dr. Nefario. And yes, the wee girl characters are cute and charming,
While it's fun, beautifully animated and entertainingly performed, however, there's nothing about Despicable Me that makes it truly stand out from the crowd. Easy on the eye, but not massively memorable.
(6 out of 10)
Jon and I have been watching a LOT of the American series of The Office lately since Jon's cousin got seasons 1-3 on DVD. Fans of the BBC series, we were sceptical but have been hugely enjoying, not least perhaps because our relationship started out as an office romance. Hence, I have gradually been putting Steve Carell's work on my lovefilm list. Recently it was The 40 Year Old Virgin - just don't go there and avoid watching with your parents. Mine took it surprisingly well.
So along came Depicable Me but I have to stick up for the film here after some of my hubby's comments as unlike recent superhero animations, this gives you the tale from the villain's point-of-view and I can't remember a recent animation doing this, other than where a villain's assistant tries to do good. Jon's already given you the premise so I won't bore you and repeat it here. I found the film very enjoyable but I was expecting it to be hugely enjoyable, but it never quite got there and the jokes weren't as laugh-out-loud as I expected them to be, as they have been in The Incredibles like "No capes!" The closest was Gru's first experience of a roller-coaster. The role of the villain wasn't very well drawn out and was quite stereotyical as the geeky son.
The voice talents are undeniable and Steve Carell's take on a Polish or Russian accent implied a homage to Bond villains and his appearance made me recall Blofeld. He is a revelation as Gru and his reading of a bedtime story is an absolute treat. I completely did not recognise Julie Andrews as Gru's mum whom Gru has been trying to impress all his life without success. Her sharp accent was brilliant and it was great to hear her to play a cruel, unsupportive mother after growing up watching her in so many wholesome roles. Russell Brand was indeed a great surprise as well, 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer makes a cameo and there's also Kristin Wiig as the head of the orphanage whom we saw recently in Paul. I had difficulty recognising Eastbound and Down's Danny McBride or Flight of the Conchord's Jermaine Clement. I just like recognising voices.
Anyway, getting sidetracked, back onto the film. I know that in years to come, Maia will be insisting we go and see Tinkerbell 3: The Adventure of the Secret Unicorn or whatever, and if she would have insisted on Despicable Me, it would have been a cinema fare I would have been far happier to part with. This is a film about how we try to impress our parents all our lives and the joy and inspiration we get from them to tackle all manner of situations . This was especially poignant to watch after Jon and I spent a long weekend in Kent, celebrating his folks' ruby wedding anniversary, and my folks were there too.
Maia will love this film one day and I hope I can get her a cuddly minion. No, she wants one really. I don't want to add one to my vast collection. Really, honest.
(7 out of 10)