VOCAL WORK BY Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Julie Andrews, Miranda Cosgrove, Jack McBrayer, Elsie Fisher, Ken Jeong DIRECTED BY Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud SCREENPLAY Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Sergio Pablos (story) MPAA RATING Rated PG RUNNING TIME est. 90 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Universal Pictures DVD EXTRAS (Single-Disc Edition)
The World of Despicable Me
Gru's Rocket Builder
A Global Effort
Despicable Me Game Previews
Commentary with Directors Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin Featuring the Minions
"Despicable Me" Review
The first animated feature from Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment, Despicable Me may be most significant as the first film that actually appears to try to capture a bit of that ole' Pixar Magic. While the film pales in comparison to even low-end Pixar, Despicable Me blossoms because it wonderfully incorporates 3-D technology into the story and, even more importantly, because the story itself is an appealing mix of childhood fears and fantasies brought to life in a way that actually respects its young audience members.
Despicable Me centers around Gru (Steve Carell), a self-perceived dastardly villain who finds himself squirming to retain his semi-reputation as a villain when a new villain, Vector (Jason Segel), arrives in town and the local "Bank of Evil" decides to stop financing Gru's evil deeds in favor of Vector, who has just wowed the world by stealing one of the famed Egyptian pyramids.
When Gru spies three little orphan girls selling cookies at the home/fortress of Vector, a light bulb goes on and adopts Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). He hatches a plot to one-up Vector by stealing the moon and winning back, or maybe just winning, the respect of his dismissive mother (Julie Andrews).
By now, it's likely quite obvious where Despicable Me is going and, for the most part, the film sticks to a formula in which mismatched outcasts slowly grow to care about one another and the despicable Gru becomes not quite so despicable.
While the script from Ken Dauro and Cinco Paul based upon a story by Sergio Pablos doesn't necessarily cover any new territory, the territory it does cover is delightfully created by co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud with inventive and fun vocal work by the majority of the ensemble cast.
As Gru, Steve Carell offers a tremendous argument for the award-worthiness of animated vocal work. Carell brings Gru to life with a surprisingly heartfelt performance in which our evil villain is shown as an emotionally wounded little boy with seriously unresolved mommy issues and an overwhelming need for someone, anyone to need him.
But, boy is he surprised when it happens.
When Gru adopts his faux family is when Despicable Me really begins to soar. While much of the credit does go to Carell, one cannot speak highly enough of the warm and funny vocal work of the trio of young actresses who portray his young charges. Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher capture beautifully all the innocence, vulnerability and wonder of childhood with complete conviction. Their scenes with Gru are both funny and tender and, at least momentarily, it becomes possible to even forget that we are watching animated figures and not actual living, breathing human beings.
Jason Segel is a hoot as the up-and-coming villain Vector, Julie Andrews goes against type with terrific results as Gru's sarcastic, mostly absent mother and Russell Brand even shows up in a rather hilarious bit as Gru's assistant, Dr. Nefario.
Visually, the film's most interesting characters may very well be a small army of little minions whose work style intertwines a Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum mentality inside the world of an Oompa Loompa. The minions would likely be mistaken by South Park's Cartman for a cheesy poof, while fans of the Veggie Tales films may have those dastardly cheese curls from The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. Small children, in particular, are likely to gravitate to these bouncy, lively and silly creatures that prove to be remarkably loyal and endearing.
Despicable Me may very well be the first film to wisely utilize 3-D technology, rather than having it appear to be simply tacked on because it's the latest, greatest technology and a way to make a few extra bucks. Here, the 3-D enhances the imagery tremendously in places while never distracting from the story itself. The same cannot be said, however, for Hans Zimmer's original score and the occasionally hip-hop flavored soundtrack by Pharrell Williams that occasionally makes the film feel like its missing a beat especially in the film's early scenes.
Much as How to Train Your Dragon was a pleasant surprise earlier this year, Despicable Me will likely catch you off guard with its inventiveness, warmth and appealingly realized characters. While it's not likely to threaten Pixar's Oscar reign this year, it's a sure sign that Pixar's no longer the only animation house in town that has managed to figure out that children are as capable as their adult counterparts of appreciating a really well made film.