"Despicable Me" 2010: From Super Bad to Super Dad
Despicable Me is a computer animated children’s film released in 2010 by Universal Pictures.
I still remember the first time I saw the film and how great it was to see this despicable man wind up becoming a loving father. It was both hilarious and heartwarming to watch Gru go through this transformation. (And the Pharrell-fueled soundtrack was pretty awesome.)
And it was delightful, because I didn’t expect such an original and entertaining story. I went into the film not knowing what it was about, and somehow, that made seeing it for the first time all the better.
After that, I got it on DVD and I must’ve watched it over and over . . . and over.
If I haven’t made it clear enough: I love Despicable Me. Sadly, the sequels were completely cringe-worthy (yes, including the minion spin-off), but we won't talk about those.
That’s right. I was never one of those people who became minion-obsessed, and I still don’t understand why the minions are so popular. But whatever.
Here is what I love about Despicable Me.
In the world of Despicable Me, supervillains don’t kidnap people and blow up buildings and rob banks. They don’t try to rule the world, give drugs to kids, or block out the sun ala Mr. Burns. Instead, supervillains are mean dorks who compete with each other by stealing huge monuments.
They are basically pranksters.
I used to wonder why there were no superheroes in this world, but honestly? What self-respecting superhero would waste time chasing Gru and the other villains like him? They are petty threats at best.
Gru (Steve Carell) has chosen to be a villain because of the emotional abuse he suffered in his childhood. We are treated to his backstory through a flashback, where he is seen as a little boy, excitedly telling his mother that he wants to go to the moon.
Gru’s mother (Julie Andrews) -- instead of nurturing and encouraging and loving him and other normal, healthy stuff—casually insults Gru (“I’m sorry, son. I’m afraid NASA isn’t sending the monkeys anymore”), making him feel small, worthless, and inadequate, while completely dashing his dreams.
This is emotional abuse.
It’s emotional abuse because it makes the child feel less than. Children believe whatever they are told because they’re children. They don’t know any better. So if a parent tells them they’re too incompetent to achieve their dreams and goals, they will believe it, and it will put a dent in their self-esteem, eventually affecting every other aspect of their lives.
For those children who don’t believe their crappy parents, such poor parenting still has an impact, leading to emotional issues later in life.
Gru didn’t believe his mother, but he became so determined to prove her wrong that he shaped his entire life around winning her love and approval, thus becoming a villain who went out of his way every year to pull off bigger and bigger feats.
Even when Gru is an adult, his mother still mocks him. There’s a scene early on in the film where she comments derisively about what a failure her son is while practicing karate. Gru is hurt but puts on a front, insisting that he’s about to pull off a feat that will finally impress his mother. He then heads to the bank, intent on getting a loan that will help him steal the moon. (Why? He’s evil! He could just steal the money! Maybe the villains own all the banks, in which case he’d be stealing from eviler guys.)
It’s amazing – no, it’s scary – how deeply psychologically damaged we can become when our parents prove incapable of loving us. We can spend the rest of our lives trying to get the unconditional love we never got as children, all because this need was never satisfied.
It isn’t an accident that in the opening of the film, Gru is single, childless, and completely obsessed with proving his worth. This is a result of his mother not loving him. Why would he marry or have children? He is too preoccupied with winning his mother’s affection to love someone else.
It isn’t until Gru meets three little girls who are being abused in a similar fashion that Gru realizes he doesn’t have to impress his mother, and he can live without her love.
Edith, Agnes, and Margo (Elsie Fisher, Miranda Cosgrove, and Dana Gaier) are three little girls who are being emotionally abused in a similar way. They live in an orphanage for girls, where they are told daily by an unkind woman named Ms. Hattie (Kristen Wiig) that they are never going to get adopted.
True to the evil orphanage headmistress archetype, Ms. Hattie mistreats the children under her care because she can get away with it. If you look at the pictures of the little girls on the wall behind Ms. Hattie as she’s talking, you can see that every little girl is utterly miserable. This is because Ms. Hattie is emotionally abusing them.
Ms. Hattie forces the girls to sell cookies all day, and those that don’t meet her quota wind up in a box, which she calls The Box of Shame.
While in the waiting room of the Bank of Evil, Gru meets Vector (Jason Segel), a nerdy villain in an orange jumpsuit who wants desperately to be his friend.
Gru ignores the guy, who is admittedly pushy and intrusive.
After his request for another loan is denied, Gru finds out from Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett) that Vector is the one who stole the Pyramid of Giza, outshining him as a villain. In a jealous rage, he freezes Vector’s head with his freeze ray, and this is how Vector becomes the main antagonist.
To get back at Gru, Vector waits until Gru has stolen the shrink ray. He then steals the shrink ray from Gru, laughing manically as he flies off with it.
“Maybe now you’ll think twice before you freeze someone’s head!”
I like that Gru dug his own hole. It shows that there are consequences to being nasty, petty, and mean.
Now determined to steal the shrink ray back, Gru attempts to infiltrate Vector’s fortress, but it’s damn-near impossible. True to all the villain tropes, Vector’s home is surrounded by sharks and lasers, and anything suspicious that appears on the perimeter is immediately blasted.
A frustrated Gru is about to give up when he realizes that there’s one way in: Agnes, Margo, and Edith can be seen selling cookies to Vector, who opens the gate for them because he loves the cookies so much.
Gru immediately heads to Ms. Hattie’s home for girls to adopt the three, and what follows is a hilarious scene where the minions make up achievements for Gru in an attempt to impress Ms. Hattie, who is reading them on the computer as the minions type them out:
“You had your own cooking show and you can hold your breath for thirty seconds?”
Gru attempts to win Ms. Hattie over by making up a sob story about his fictional dead wife. Unfortunately, Ms. Hattie is evil, so her heart can’t be touched by sob stories – she doesn’t have a heart. But like all emotional abusers, she does have an ego. When Gru appeals to her by pretending to flatter her (calling her face ass-like in Spanish), she immediately gives him the girls to adopt.
When the girls meet Gru for the first time, Edith and Margo (the older ones) are horrified. After all, Gru looks like Count Dracula. He’s ghoulishly sinister and is looking down at them with wicked satisfaction, having finally acquired the key to stealing back the shrink ray from Vector – and to winning his mother’s love and approval.
Edith and Margo just stand there in disappointment and shock, but Agnes squeals with delight, and in a completely adorable scene, she runs to Gru, hugs his leg, and doesn’t let go.
For Gru, it’s probably the first time he’s ever been loved and accepted unconditionally. He doesn’t know what to do. At first he tries to pry Agnes off. Then he awkwardly limps out the door with her clinging to him all the way (so cute).
Once Gru gets the girls home, it slowly becomes apparent to them that he’s a villain. His house is violent and scary, full of dangerous antique weapons, laser guns, and taxidermy monsters.
Edith climbs inside Gru’s iron maiden, and when it looks like she’s been killed, Gru shrugs and walks away, muttering, “Oh well. The plan could work with two.”
Ha ha ha.
Having been raised by a bad parent, Gru has no idea how to take care of children. He leaves the girls dog bowls full of candy and newspapers to pee on, then tells them to stay in the kitchen and that he will see them in six hours.
It’s admirable when Margo choses to be positive, telling the other girls that they can be happy there, despite Gru’s . . . emotional issues.
The movie just gets more heartwarming and hilarious, from Agnes’ stuffed unicorn getting disintegrated by Gru’s laser (she holds her breath until the minions bring her another) to Gru being guilt-tripped into taking the girls to their ballet class.
Once there, Gru has a cute moment with Agnes where he pinky-swears to attend the girls’ dance, and all the mothers at the dance recital eagerly lean toward him (ha ha ha).
Mean and nasty Gru is slowly being broken down by the love of these three tiny girls, and it’s delightful to watch.
After Gru successfully uses the girls to steal the shrink ray back from an unsuspecting Vector, the girls beg him to take them to an amusement park. Gru agrees, intent on abandoning the girls there.
Instead, he winds up having fun with them. When a man with a rigged carnival game cheats the girls out of winning Agnes a stuffed unicorn, Gru gets angry and blows up the stand in the child’s defense.
The girls are impressed, and Gru is somewhere between surprised and happy. For the first time in his life, someone admires him.
What most people fail to realize is this movie wasn’t about Gru becoming a better person. It was about Gru finally being loved unconditionally, just the way he is, without needing to change or prove anything. The three little girls love him, even though he is wicked. Their love has no conditions.
This is something his mother was supposed to have done for him, but she didn’t, so he pulled a bunch of stunts as a villain trying to earn her love. Once the girls fulfill that need, however, Gru stops being a villain. He doesn’t need to impress anyone anymore.
Though Gru has successfully stolen the shrink ray and is on the verge of finally stealing the moon, a disgruntled Mr. Perkins still insists on cutting off Gru’s funds, citing Gru as the only thing he doesn’t like about the plan.
Gru takes this personally, and the dismissal of Mr. Perkins triggers a bunch of flashbacks, where his indifferent mother continuously blows off his achievements (such as building a rocket ship and sending it to the moon when he was just a small boy).
While Gru is in the middle of delivering the woeful news to the minions, the girls sweetly bring him their piggybank. The minions soon chime in, pulling out wallets and coins, and a touched Gru decides they will steal the moon after all!
The montage that follows is adorable (“You are the prettiest girls!”) with Gru cooking pancakes and doing laundry and being a good dad. Even his otherwise cold and indifferent mother approves and appears at his house, showing the girls embarrassing pictures of Gru as a child.
Margo: “He looks like a girl.”
Gru’s Mom: “Yes, he does. An ugly girl.”
It’s revealed in the next scene that “Vector” is actually Victor, the son of Mr. Perkins. Now we know why Mr. Perkins dismissed Gru and why Gru shouldn’t have taken it personally.
We should never take it personally. It’s almost never about us. And even if it is, who cares what other people think?
Mr. Perkins is furious as he tells his unsuspecting son (who still hasn’t noticed) that Gru has stolen the shrink ray from him.
Vector pulls out his ridiculous squid gun and vows to steal it back.
Meanwhile, in the next scene, Gru finally reads the girls a bedtime story. Until this moment, he has consistently refused, but Margo reminds him that they’ll just keep getting up and bothering him unless he puts them to bed.
Gru gives in and reads the girls a bedtime story that is obviously an analogy of the film: the book is about a mother cat and her three kittens, mirroring Gru and the three little girls.
At the story’s end, the mother cat has finally gotten the kittens to sleep and tells them that she loves them. Gru pauses when the mother’s words make him realize that he now loves the girls. He gets up and quickly tries to leave the room, but Agnes asks why he won’t kiss them goodnight. A disturbed Gru leaves without kissing the girls.
Margo goes to bed, saying unhappily, “He’s not going to kiss us, Agnes.”
The girls think that Gru doesn’t love them, when in fact, he left because he does love them and it frightens him.
Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), Gru’s partner in crime, has also noticed Gru’s love for the girls.
Dr. Nefario is a father figure to Gru, probably the only father he’s ever had. Unlike Gru’s disapproving mother, he wants Gru to be a villain, to be mean and nasty and closed off and alone . . . to be like him. He tells Gru that the girls have become a distraction, and if Gru doesn’t get rid of them, he will.
Gru, still disturbed by the fact that he loves the girls, sadly agrees.
The next day, Ms. Hattie shows up at the door, after Dr. Nefario calls the orphanage behind Gru’s back. Gru doesn’t even protest, instead glumly going along with Dr. Nefario’s actions.
The scene that follows is heartbreaking, with Agnes holding on to Gru’s leg and begging to stay, while Edith and Margo sadly climb in the car.
Gru stands on the curb and watches as Ms. Hattie drives the girls away from him and out of his life. As the camera pulls away, he looks so . . . helpless.
Gru is so damaged by his mother’s poor parenting that he’s afraid of love, and this is why he lets the girls go without a fight.
With the girls gone, Gru returns to his plan, intent on finally stealing the moon. As he is taking off, the minions put the dance ticket in the pocket of his spacesuit.
As Gru shrinks the moon with his shrink ray, the Earth’s ocean loses its waves (causing surfers to fall) and a werewolf is instantly turned back into a naked man.
But as Gru floats in space, celebrating and hugging the tiny moon to his chest, the ticket to the dance floats past his face. He realizes that he could make it to the dance if he hurried.
Back at Gru’s home, things that were shrunk with the shrink ray start unshrinking. Before long, the moon will unshrink as well.
An unsuspecting Gru hurries to the girls’ dance, only to discover via ransom note that they have been kidnapped by Vector. He races off to save them.
When he arrives at Vector’s house to save the girls, he hands over the moon, but Vector refuses to let the children go. Furious, Gru threatens Vector, and his love for the girls has made him superhuman.
In a really cool scene, he dodges missiles, punches out Vector’s shark, and climbs the Pyramid of Giza, jumping on Vector’s ship as it takes off into the sky.
Go, Super Dad!
The moon starts unshrinking and crushes Vector, who passes out, leaving his ship swerving out of control.
The girls attempt to escape out the ship’s hatch only to discover Gru’s ship waiting for them as it hovers below. What follows is one of the most touching scenes in the film.
From the opposite side of a huge gap, Gru encourages the girls to jump down to him. When the girls refuse, Gru insists that he will catch them. They don’t believe him. Margo shouts in a hurt voice, “You gave us back!”
Though Margo is always trying to be positive and brave, she is actually the most cynical and untrusting of the three girls. She is older and has probably been through more hurt and disappointment than Edith and Agnes, who willingly jump into Gru’s arms.
Margo is the only one who hangs back. She still doesn’t believe Gru, prompting him to say the sweetest line in the film,
“Margo, I will catch you! And I will never let you go again!”
Hearing this, Margo attempts to jump – and is grabbed by Vector.
As Vector takes Margo hostage, the unshrinking moon smacks him again, and Margo is sent flying from the ship. Gru nearly falls to his death saving her, but he catches her in his arm, as promised.
Meanwhile, Vector’s ship is destroyed when the moon finally unshrinks and floats back into the sky, taking the dorky villain with it.
In yet another touching scene, Gru reads the girls’ a book that he wrote about “three little kittens” who came into his life. With the book read, he finally kisses the girls goodnight. As he goes to kiss Margo, she suddenly jumps up and hugs him, telling him that she loves him.
This movie makes me feel like such a sap.
Because Gru finally received the unconditional love he didn’t receive as a child, it helped him heal from his mother’s abuse, and he stopped chasing her approval.
You’ll hear a lot of people say that we only need to love ourselves and we don’t need love from other people, but if that were true, then no one would be so damaged by loveless childhoods.
Everyone needs love from others. Can we survive without it? Yes. Can we live without it? No.
And of course, Gru’s narcissistic mother praises him for being a good parent – but only because she claims to have been such a good parent herself. Narcissists always make everything about them, them, them, even their children’s achievements.
Gru is correct to roll his eyes.
The movie ends with everyone dancing, for some reason.
I blame Shrek for this. Ever since Dreamworks did the whole (awesome) “Shrek in the swamp dance party,” every single computer animated film had to copy them.
They danced at the end of Megamind. They danced at the end of Robots. And now this. I was a little annoyed when this happened, honestly, and it’s probably the one thing I don’t like about the film.
Everything else? Perfect.
Own this heartwarming film now!