DESPICABLE ME (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010)
It’s hard out there for a supervillain when someone else snatches the Great Pyramid and thus steals your thunder. For Gru, voiced with a Russian accent by Steve Carell, his competition’s monumental theft is a call to step up his game in DESPICABLE ME.
Gru has his heart set on plucking the moon out of the sky, but first he needs to steal a shrink ray. After all, celestial bodies won’t fit in the overhead compartment. Gru’s crew swipes the shrink ray, but before long it’s in the hands of Vector (Jason Segel), the nerdy nemesis who one-upped him with the pyramid scheme. Gru is unable to breach Vector’s complex and retake what wasn’t his. When he sees that a trio of orphans selling cookies can get in through the front door, he adopts the girls. Becoming a parent brings unexpected consequences, though.
DESPICABLE ME may place a bad guy at the center of the movie, but this is a light and sweet kids’ film that keeps things offbeat and fun because it’s a little naughty. Gru’s furniture is made from endangered species, and he finds joy in the small things, like using his freeze gun to cut in line at the coffee shop. Gru welcomes his adopted daughters into his home by pointing out the sheet of newspaper he’s laid out for bodily functions and the water and candy bowls to sustain them. This slightly inappropriate silliness goes a long way in spicing up what eventually becomes a fairly predictable story about the love of children melting Gru’s heart.
DESPICABLE ME is more of a kick when it indulges its anarchic comedy impulses. After all, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote never needed to get sappy. DESPICABLE ME could have stuck to Gru and his minions trying to outwit and outdo Vector. Gru’s little yellow assistants provide a stable of versatile sight gags in their own right and would have permitted the film to cut loose in ways it can’t with child characters in the line of fire.
Animated films have accrued a certain amount of artistic credibility to the point where calling DESPICABLE ME a visually clever cartoon might sound like a backhanded compliment. It shouldn’t. This breezy movie is more fun when it doesn’t worry about saying anything important and lets the zany antics unwind.