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Despicable Me

by Yoda
posted on 8/12/10
It's a peculiar trick of human emotion that characters who embrace their flaws can become surprisingly endearing. For example, the grumpy nihilism of Greg House, or the charming debauchery of Tony Stark.

Or Despicable Me's Gru, (voiced by Steve Carell), whose criminal ambitions know no bounds and whose accent knows no border. The latter sounds mostly Eastern European, though Carell describes it as a mix of Bela Lugosi and Ricardo Montalban, and the character is about as attractive as you'd expect their offspring to be. Gru resembles nothing so much as a misshapen snowman on stilts, and his appearance does a good deal of the heavy lifting of making him likable.

The film opens with the revelation that someone has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza and replaced it with an inflatable facsimile. Why not? The villains here do these things only for their inherent grandeur, not out of much desire for money or power. The same cannot be said, however, of the "Evil Bank" that Gru must visit to solicit funding for his latest ideas. They bankroll evil geniuses as a form of investment, expecting to be paid back when their stolen item is ransomed back to the world. It's a clever idea, though the idea of an evil banking institution makes for an overly hammy grab at the zeitgeist.

Inevitably, some adorable children come padding into the picture, and we know immediately that they will gradually soften Gru's hardened heart and then grow it to three times its original size. What's surprising is that the cutaways to the lives of these children are every bit as funny as Gru's villainous exploits. There are three of them; all girls, and all orphans, and their depressing plight is so sad and blatantly manipulative that it transforms from low tragedy into high comedy.

The gags are incredibly dense in the film's first half, and many of them harken back to classic cartoons. Security systems are impossibly elaborate, rockets are massively oversized, and explosions seem to cause no harm outside of temporary blackening the victim. Sadly, there are no Acme Giant Magnets, but one imagines this was only due to time constraints. Depiscable Me was clearly made by people who know their progenitors.

The film's chief comic failing is Gru's "minions," thousands of tiny yellow things of varying shapes and sizes that speak only in high-pitched gibberish and are constantly hitting each other. These 3,000 Stooges fulfill the film's need for both an easily marketed toy, and the target audience's desire for funny little creatures, and they're a bit too on-the-nose (though they don't have any). They seem like they were constructed by a committee with the express intent to appeal to children.

Despicable Me is the first film created by Illumination Entertainment, which is headed by the same man who previously ran Blue Sky Studios (Robots, the Ice Age movies). Unsurprisingly, its first effort straddles the same line between Pixar's timeless classics and Dreamworks' dated pop-culture barrages that Blue Sky did.

Despite the seemingly endless collection of animated studios, audiences seem to have an insatiable appetite for their wares; and they'll always make room for films as funny and self-aware as this one.