8/9/10

Review: Despicable Me (2010)


Despicable Me is a very respectable, warm, funny film about a supervillain who's lost his mojo, and how it ends up changing his life as well as the lives of three little girls he adopts from an orphanage in furtherance of one of his evil plans.

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is a Charles Addams-looking bad guy with visual and other shades of Uncle Fester, Gomez Addams, Gargamel from "The Smurfs" and Boris Badinov (mostly for the voice), along with other classic grouches and baddies, with a cartoonishly Holmesian aquiline nose. He's instantly iconic, and the audience already has a pretty good idea who he is from the beginning, if only from various previews which showed extended clips from the film.

Usually, such a strategy can spoil the fun a bit, but the episodes still seem fresh when they come up in the film, and they still work in context as well or better than they did in the previews. The film creates a flimsy little world, but it's light, flip, blithe and well-realized enough. Gru is a supervillain with mommy issues. Nothing he's ever done has impressed his sarcastic, withholding mother (voiced by Julie Andrews). And now he's being crowded out of the supervillain business by a young upstart named Vector (Jason Segel), who has his own parental approval issues.

Gru is happily bad to the bone, and the moments which illustrate this are classics. The animation, visual design and visual jokes are seamless. And Steve Carell's vocalization of the role is a master class in voice acting, he makes Gru real and hilarious. Nothing really makes Gru want to make any changes in his high-flying life of rather pointless crime until he comes up against the little orphan girls, who are cute and wide-eyed kids to the bone. This is the film's chief conflict.

The girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes, voiced respectively by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Geier and Elsie Fisher (most outstanding) are, to be fair, cutesy cut-outs and not much more, but are still cannily presented for relatively flat characters. They have just enough differentiation and development. Either more or less of them probably would have been detrimental.

The same could be said of Gru's army of yellow pill-shaped minions, some kind of robots or clones or robot clones. They're kind of annoying on their own, but within the story they're quite functional, malleable and ultimately integral to the film's absurd elements. Russell Brand is outstanding as the voice of Gru's slightly doddering mad-scientist partner in crime, Dr. Nefario.

Segel's Vector is the silliest and least interesting character, but he serves his purpose as well. Vector looks like the son of Edna Mode from The Incredibles and sounds as gleefully annoying as he probably should. You can sort of hate him, but he's too ridiculous and judiciously deployed to seriously grate on the nerves. Which reminds me that the film also manages to squeeze in its obligatory kids-movie flatulence joke without being overly scatological. That's kind of a good trick, if you're not going to excise your obligatory kids-movie flatulence joke (which you probably should anyway).

Like a good light comedy should, the film ends with lots of redemption, reconciliation and a pretty funny dance number. A lot of what could have been cheesy or boring ends up being a pretty charming, whimsical, fun ride. Pharell Williams's title track works well, it's funny and story-packed on its own, complementing the fine score by Heitor Pereira and summing up the film nicely.

Despicable Me manages to walk the tightrope between being overly sappy and sentimental on the one hand, or stupid on the other, without breaking a sweat. Everything's right where it should be to keep the movie economical, light, brisk, funny and still touching and human. It's good in 3-D, and it's good in 2-D. I watched it both ways. It's very, very good, very entertaining for anybody and great for kids.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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