Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Despicable Me" (2010)

Starring Steve Carrell, Jason Segel and Russell Brand
Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Despicable Me (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)It's only recently that other companies have finally stepped up and managed to challenge Pixar as the undisputed king of computer generated animated feature films.  Sure, Pixar is still the king, but more and more, companies like Universal and Dreamworks are producing quality works that are going on to make tons of money.

"Despicable Me" is the story of Gru (Steve Carrell), a supervillain who has drawn up plans for his greatest crime ever: stealing the moon itself.  Until now, he has only managed to steal second-rate monuments like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower... from Las Vegas.  But when he steals the moon, the world will know and fear Gru as its greatest villain.  But one thing stands in his way: money.

Gru goes to the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers) to ask for an evil loan, but the bank manager Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett) turns him down.  Perkins then takes Gru's plan and enlists his son, Vector (Jason Segel) to enact it instead.  Gru plans to steal a shrink ray from a secret lab in Asia, but Vector intervenes and takes it from him.  Gru tries to steal it back, but finds that Vector's home is an impenetrable fortress, and he must discover some other way in. 

That other way is three orphan girls he sees selling cookies to Vector.  Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) sell cookies and hope to be adopted from their home at Mrs. Hattie's Home for Girls.  Mrs. Hattie (Kristen Wiig) seems pleasant enough, but is actually quite harsh.  Gru adopts the girls as part of his plan to infiltrate Vector's home, but he doesn't plan on actually coming to love and care for these girls.  He nearly blows his heist of the moon when he realizes he's going to be late for their ballet recital.  But Vector isn't about to allow Gru to become the world's greatest villain, and he's not above putting three innocent children in danger in order to get what he wants.

"Despicable Me" is a funny, and perfectly charming CG film.  Perhaps what's most interesting about it as an adult is that beyond all the colorful slapstick, "Despicable Me" also has a bit of a cynical streak running through it.  Some of the darker jokes involve the mistreatment of children, and while that might seem awful, "Despicable Me" is deft enough to make it legitimately funny instead of terrible.  Children who misbehave at Mrs. Hattie's orphanage, for example, are put in the "Box of Shame," which is a cardboard box with a hole cut in the side and "box of shame" written in magic marker.  Another joke has a child getting into an iron maiden, and what looks like blood seeping out of the bottom is actually because the spikes put a hole in the juice box she carries.

As a villain, Gru is pretty pathetic, which is why we know he's ultimately going to turn out heroic in the end.  The film puts a surprising twist on Gru as a character in that his villainy is ultimately a response to his mother's awful, negative parenting.  That is, Gru isn't an evil person, but he wants so desperately to impress his mother that he goes to worse and worse lengths to do so. 

The cast is uniformly excellent, even on down to bit parts like Julie Andrews as Gru's mother, Wiig's peppy Mrs. Hattie and Gru's scientific assistant, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).  Also hilarious are Gru's engineered yellow minions, who speak in an almost intelligible gibberish, and often squabble amongst themselves.  Of course, the whole thing would fall apart with Steve Carrell's strangely accented Gru.  A lot of the humor is visual, but Gru also gets lots of great lines that sound even funnier with his odd inflections.  The girls say, "Pretty please?" and he replies, "The physical appearance of the please makes no difference."  Carrell delivers these lines in a genius, matter-of-fact kind of way that can't help but be funny.

With a solid mix of light and dark humor, witty dialogue, colorful slapstick and a couple of well-executed action sequences, "Despicable Me" can be easily described as "fun for all ages."  It may not have the emotional maturity to take on the best Pixar has to offer, but it's highly entertaining, for children and adults alike.