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Movie Review: Despicable Me

July 8, 2010
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Who would have thought that two of the best movies of the summer would be animated family fare?  First we had Pixar’s wonderful Toy Story 3, and now we are treated to Despicable Me, the debut film by production company Illumination Entertainment.

By the looks of this fledgeling feature, we have a lot to look forward to with this company. Despicable Me is simply adorable, that truly is the best word to describe it.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), is a villian who has fallen to the lower ranks of  the bad-guy pecking order in recent years.  He longs to rise to the top once again.

An enthusiastic new schemer named Vector (Jason Segel) has stolen the villain spotlight because he successfully swiped a Pyramid landmark in Egypt.  While media outlets frantically report that there is  a new villain in their midst, Gru seethes, and hatches a plan.  He will obtain a top secret machine that can shrink objects, travel to the moon, shrink it to a manageable size, and steal it.  Surely this will be the most dastardly deed ever!

Gru assembles his army of minions (those adorable yellow creatures you’ve seen in the trailers) to help him erect a spaceship and steal the device. Vector thwarts Gru once again by stealing the shrinking device from him after he successfully acquires it.

Gru then channels his energy into trying to break into Vectors fortress, which proves to be an impossible task.  He witnesses three young girls selling cookies easily gain entrance, and discovers that they are from a local orphanage.  He visits the orphanage under the guise of being a widowed dentist who always wanted children.   The head-mistress Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig) is glad to be rid of the children, and lets them go with a minimum of paperwork fuss.

Although they find Gru odd, the girls are beside themselves with joy over their adoption.  That is, until they get home.  Gru immediately lays out a set of miserly rules and the girls quickly find out there were ulterior motives behind their adoption. Namely, Gru wants to use them to gain access to Vector’s secure compound.

The girls from the orphanage

But the precocious girls worm their way their way into Gru’s cold heart, and Gru finds out how rewarding having a real family can be.  A series of flashbacks shows his own unfortunate upbringing at the hands of a coolly disinterested and demoralizing mother (Julie Andrews.)

These flashbacks serve to humanize Gru, and it’s easy to see why he chose a path of evil over good, and prefers isolation to human interaction.  Granted, he does have all the minions, but they are kept in a secret room in the house, and aren’t allowed free rein. Ironically, it is these tiny girls who teach Gru the biggest lessons in life.

Despicable Me brings to mind classic characters Scrooge and the Grinch, and the final shot is is an unmistakable hat tip  to the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.

Toy Story 3 ended on an emotional, melancholy note, but Despicable comes off as more heartwarming and uplifting. It’s a sweet movie that adults and children alike should find delightful.

It also makes excellent and thorough use of 3D.  This is one movie I would encourage you to shell out the extra money to see in 3D, it looks fantastic.  The film often catapults objects right in front of you (my kids kept trying to grab them), but it doesn’t feel gimmicky.  Everything feels organic, and nothing feels like it was stuck in the movie just to use 3D. This is actually some of the best 3D I have seen this year.

The voice talent is top notch. In addition to Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Julie Andrews, and Jason Segel, the movie features Will Arnett, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Danny McBride, and Mindy Kaling.

This is the first feature film for co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, and they show an eye for detail that adults will particularly enjoy.  For instance, in an opening sequence, there is a busload of American tourists who waddle off of a bus to visit the Egyptian pyramids.

One is wearing a wife-beater, most are overweight, loud  and obnoxious, and one woman has her child on one of those kid-leashes. None of these details had to be there, but they enhance the scene greatly.

I also thought that Gru’s bachelor pad was nicely done, featuring furniture made out of endangered animals, medieval torture devices, and other unsavory decor.  When the girls come home, he has make-shift beds waiting for them made out of hollowed out bombs and missiles. It is quite possibly the least child friendly domicile ever.

Despicable Me is a delight from beginning to end.  You will leave the theater with a smile on your face, and  overwhelming urge to have your own minion.

Rating: 4.5/5

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