Despicable Me (PG)
4 out of 4 stars
With 2010 halfway complete, the suits in Hollywood have much to be happy about and an equal, if not greater, amount of serious negatives. Business is up and most of the live-action movies released thus far have largely performed according to expectations.
The biggest bit of bad news is that the majority of these same films are severely lacking in quality and three of the four best movies of the year are animated. While great for children and families, this isn’t so wonderful for the industry’s highly desired 18 to 25 demographic, people who steadfastly avoid animation.
“Despicable Me” could be the young adult animated movie Hollywood has been trying in vain to create since the dawn of the medium. It is whip-smart, prickly, topical and just sinister enough to appeal to anyone allergic to standard homespun, sickly-sweet animated fare.
Owing a great deal to the TV versions of “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and “The Addams Family,” Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” and a little of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” “Despicable Me” might not be to everyone’s liking but it is easily the most interesting animated film since “WALL-E.”
Moving with an assured yet stilted gait and looking like a cross between Uncle Fester from “The Addams Family,” the Grinch and Dr. Evil, Gru (Steve Carell) is the world’s acknowledged top criminal and a mad scientist to boot. His home is adorned with tributes to famous outlaws of the past along with antique weapons and the occasional torture device. Warm and cuddly Gru is not.
When Gru discovers he’s been usurped by the obnoxious and peppy upstart Vector (Jason Segal), he mildly panics. Vector has just stolen Egypt’s Great Pyramid and Gru figures the only thing that can top that performance would be to steal the moon. Only momentarily stymied, Gru decides to infiltrate Vector’s lair in order to take back something with the unknowing assistance of three orphan girls selling cookies. In order to accomplish this he’ll have to temporarily adopt the girls, lull them into a false sense of security and then toss them by the wayside when he’s done. Heartwarming stuff, huh?
In an effort to help us make sense of Gru’s pointed demeanor and sharp edges, the four French filmmakers regularly interrupt the story with flashback sequences showing Gru as a child trying desperately to impress his domineering mother (an unrecognizable Julie Andrews). In addition to being double-over hilarious, these welcomed breaks go far in nurturing our empathy regarding Gru’s parent/child issues, stand-offish personality and pile-driving, overachieving nature.
Beating out the orphans in the charm department by just a nose are the hundreds, maybe thousands of yellow, capsule-shaped minions. For the better part of the last year, the minions have been the only characters used to market the film and children will adore them instantly. (Parent should be prepared for an onslaught of tie-in toy requests.) Speaking in a high-pitched, sped-up, incomprehensible babble, they assist Gru and his aging professor partner Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) with good-natured, worker-bee fervor yet tend to miss their marks more than they hit them.
“Despicable Me” is the first feature release from upstart Illumination Entertainment and everything they’re doing — including a clever opening title sequence motion logo — echoes Pixar. Some might call the movie a Pixar rip-off and in part, they might be right. However, if you’re going to borrow or pinch, you might as well do so from the very best.