Should I Watch..? Despicable Me
What's the big deal?
Despicable Me is an animated comedy film released in 2010 and is the debut feature release by Illumination Entertainment in conjunction with Universal Pictures. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, the film concerns the plans of a supervillain to trump his rivals whilst finding himself a surrogate father for three orphaned girls. The film became a surprise smash hit with critics and audiences, going on to take $543 million worldwide as well as spawning two sequels and the prequel Minions in 2015, the latter film grossing over $1.1 billion. The film stars Steve Carell and also features Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig and Julie Andrews in the supporting cast.
What's it about?
Gru, a supervillain living unnoticed in suburbia, finds his pride dented after the Great Pyramid of Giza is stolen by a new upstart villain calling himself Vector. Gru decides to go one better and immediately plots with his colleague Dr Nefario to shrink and then steal the moon. After the Bank of Evil turns down Gru's request for a loan, Gru decides to acquire a shrink-ray himself from Vector's heavily guarded lair.
After failing several times to gain access, Gru notices three little girls from the nearby orphanage - Margo, Edith and Agnes - gain entry whilst selling cookies. Gru slowly contrives to adopt the girls in order to use them to steal the shrink ray but doesn't count on one thing - the more time he spends with them, the more responsible he feels. Can Gru remember his job as an evil genius and get the job done or has his stone-cold heart finally melted?
Victor "Vector" Perkins
Marlena, Gru's mother
Henry Perkins, President of the Bank of Evil
Miss Hattie, orphanage manager
Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio *
Release Date (UK)
15th October, 2010
Animated, Comedy, Family
What's to like?
You might be forgiven for thinking that the film revolves around the Minions but thankfully, the film exists before those banana-coloured critters spawned their own merchandise. Despicable Me focuses much more on the human cast and the film is considerably better for it. Ever since Mike Myers introduced Dr Evil in the first Austin Powers, we've been straining to see a film to feature an evil genius at the core and Carell's impressive performance as Gru (complete with unusual accent) elevates the character to new heights - or should that be depths? Alongside Carell, Brand is surprisingly good as Nefario and the three little girls are as annoyingly cute and cuddly as they should be.
What I really like is what appears to be a genuine love for animation throughout. Yes, there are moments to please those gullible 3D viewers such as the roller-coaster sequence but there are other times when it harks back to the days of classic Looney Tunes like when Gru attempts to access Vector's compound. It's brilliantly funny, even without the slapstick Minions stealing the scene. And against my better nature, I also enjoyed the hip-hop soundtrack which might not immediately go together with the subject matter or style of the film but is pleasant enough. And, although it may hurt a Pixar aficionado like myself to say it, it's more inventive and imaginative than a lot of Pixar's recent output. There is more to this than there is to the like of Cars 2 or Brave, despite both of those looking much better than Despicable Me.
- Directors Coffin & Renaud actually provide the voices for a number of the Minions including Stuart and Bob, two characters from the Minions movie.
- The language the Minions use is called Minionese and is comprised of funny sounding words from Italian, Korean and other languages. Each word in the film the Minions speak translates into an actual word.
- Dr Seuss' character the Lorax can be seen on Margo's shirt under her jacket. Illumination Entertainment would go on to release the film Dr Seuss' The Lorax in 2012.
What's not to like?
As good as Carell and Brand are, there are much weaker performances from Segel and Andrews who don't seem to breath life into their roles anything like as well. I didn't like the Vector character that much - he seemed to lack a little of the depth of Gru while his endless parade of guns felt pretty weak compared to his knack of always being one step ahead. The other thing I wanted to see was an actual hero-character being a protagonist - imagine a James Bond-type spy trying to thwart these nefarious schemes but coming a cropper every time. Maybe they were saving that idea for Despicable Me 2 or at least something similar.
As is usually the way with animated films, there is a rival with a similar theme lurking around the corner. Remember the clash between Antz and A Bug's Life when both films were released within months of each other? Released the same year as Megamind, the premise is clearly not quite as original as one might have thought as that film also focuses on a supervillain discovering new, previously hidden talents. Lastly, I'm also not a fan of the film's general aesthetics. Telling an unbelievable story doesn't mean the film has to look overly cartoon-ish - anyone who saw Pixar's Cars will tell you that it's an odd set-up but the film is still remarkably pretty and realistic to look at. That isn't something this film can claim to be.
Should I watch it?
To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for this movie but it delivers in a way I hadn't expected. Striking that rare balance between genuine comedy, heart-warming scenes and memorable characters, the film is maybe not a Pixar killer but certainly a warning shot across the bows. It's also reminded Pixar that the competition were closing in and getting better each time and so far, it looks as though they have upped their game in response. Despicable Me is great family entertainment - just don't be surprised if you kids won't shut up about the banana-skinned sidekicks!
Great For: the whole family, evil geniuses, Universal's shareholders, merchandising opportunities
Not So Great For: parents trying not to spoil their demanding children, realistic CG animation
What else should I watch?
Like I said, the competition is getting fierce in the world of feature-length CG animation and the original innovators Pixar have only just started looking over their shoulders. Films like Big Hero 6 and Frozen have all closed the gap between Pixar and the other studios although Pixar came back in a big way in 2015 with Inside Out, a genuinely brilliant, touching and inventive film about the goings-on in the mind of a young girl. Frankly, so long as great films are being released and the viewing public continue to enjoy them, who cares which studio produces which films? The only winners are us, the viewing public so it's a win-win as far as I'm concerned.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox