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July 9, 2010
Review - " Despicable Me "  -  (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Despicable Me
Directed by: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segal, Russell Brand, Julie
Andrews, Kristin Wiig, Will Arnett, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana
Gaier, Elsie Fisher

Despicable Me marks Universal Pictures’ first attempt at
cashing in on the 3-D animation craze, and the film, which is
actually pretty entertaining, falls considerably short of the
almost impossibly high bar set by Pixar and DreamWorks.
This is despite an animation style that is consistently
captivating and always surprising, as filmmakers Pierre
Coffin and Chris Renaud offer up an off-kilter universe that
rarely resembles anything else within the animation world. If
anything, Despicable Me’s visuals have more in common with
certain European efforts, such as 2003’s Triplets of
Belleville, than most North American releases.

In a different year, Despicable Me would have been the
animation hit of summer, but Toy Story 3 is a hard act to
follow. Still, Steve Carell is convincingly Gru-some as the
world’s most vulnerable super-villain, and his lovable yellow
minions are incorrigible scene-stealers.

Even villainy has its share of routine downsides. Competition.
Politics. The difficulty finding good help. The usual stuff.
Don't forget, villains are people too. They have hopes,
parents, and bills to pay, just like the rest of us. Despicable
Me gives us one such villain, Gru (Steve Carell), and he has
his hands full.
Despicable Me, with its trio of orphaned adolescent sisters determined to find a home, its pair of rival villains armed with
enough gizmos and gadgets to blow up an Xbox, and its horde of squeezable minions more adorable than a paddock of
puppies, pretty much covers the bases. Girls, boys, sentimental moms and wise-cracking dads (or vice versa) will be
entertained by one aspect or another of this cleverly formulaic cartoon that is, by turns, caustic and charming, gross and
poignant, silly and sophisticated.

Gru (Steve Carell), with his black-and-grey soccer scarf and dubious Eastern European accent, certainly has continental flair,
even if he lives in an Addams-style house in suburbia. An ambitious criminal whose dastardly deeds have fallen short of
notoriety, he is miffed that his younger rival, a nerdy fop who calls himself Vector (Jason Segel), has heisted the Great
Pyramid, while he has managed to swipe only the Statue of Liberty—the miniature one in Las Vegas. But Gru has a plan. If he
can capture the Shrink Ray (under development by the Chinese) and obtain a small-business loan from the Bank of Evil to
build a spaceship, he is confident he can swipe the Moon, thus securing his place in the Annals of Crime.

Everyone knows about best-laid plans: Vector
pirates the pilfered Shrink Ray, forcing our
persistent antihero to adopt three girls selling
cookies door-to-door in order to use them to
infiltrate Vector’s impenetrable Wright-like
fortress. Little does Gru suspect that Margo,
Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana
Gaier and Elsie Fisher) are more than a match
for his evil genius. Gru steals the Moon, but
they steal his heart.

Writers Paul and Daurio are nothing if not
economical. Despicable Me wastes little time
on exposition—just enough to establish
character—allowing ample opportunity for
leisurely set-pieces, including two interviews with a bloviating bank president (Will Arnett) that adults will appreciate, as well as
a reading from a storybook entitled “Sleepy Kittens” that Gru pronounces (in his Cyrillic accent) “garbage.” Much of the
humor, and animation, is basic stuff involving Vector’s attempts to perfect weapons employing piranhas, squids and sharks,
but there are amusing subplots featuring Gru’s abominable mother (voiced by Julia Andrews, of all people) and the hideous
Ms. Hattie (Kristen Wiig), who runs the foster home where Margo, Edith and Agnes are employed, er, cared for. Gru’s massive
subterranean laboratories, secreted beneath his house, are overseen by his superannuated sidekick, Dr. Nefario (Russell
Brand), who, hard of hearing, constantly mistakes his boss’ requisitions for armaments—a dart gun becomes…well, there’s
plenty of old-fashioned toilet humor that never gets as old as our antiheroes.

Dr. Nefario, presumably, is responsible for Gru’s Minions, Despicable Me’s contribution to the Annals of Comic Creation. The
shape, color and, one imagines, texture of foam ear-plugs bedecked in bib overalls and safety goggles, our gibbering worker
beans upstage Carell in just about every scene they appear together. Think of The Three Stooges multiplied by a thousand,
bonking one another over the head with lug wrenches and scanning their little yellow butts on the office photocopier. Minions
crack themselves up, literally, although their intended purpose is to execute Gru’s arch schemes. Part of the joke is that their
evil master knows all their names, although they all look alike, kinda; how many environmentally conscious, affirmative-acting
multimillionaire CEOs can boast the same about their minions?

Thus is Gru, slowly but inexorably, revealed to be a caring soul suffering from the aftershocks of his own traumatized
childhood, a tried-and-true formula for
creating lovable villains in the modern fairy
tale. And once again, the theme of a
summer kids’ movie (Toy Story 3 included) is
fear of abandonment and the search for
home, the very definition of childhood in the
Western world. If the stalwart and persistent
Margo, Edith and Agnes are any example, it
takes a tough child to raise a tender parent.

while it will never be compared to, say, Toy
Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon,
Despicable Me is exactly the sort of easy-
going animated film that you can feel
comfortable taking your kids to.