Despicable Me falls somewhere in the middle range of animated films targeted at kids, featuring none of the delirious wit of How to Train Your Dragon and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and certainly not the outright Pixar genius, but also absent the mindless pandering and obvious plotting we all fear in children's films. With a smart concept, some clever gags and well-choreographed action it moves along nicely, but it also squanders considerable voice talent and doesn't really take advantage of the twisted world it successfully creates. You get the feeling that a darker and more clever Despicable Me may have existed at some point before the studio, still trying to break into the animated market, defaulted to the safe side.
As Gru, a hunched supervillain conducting all his plots from the suburbs for some reason, Steve Carell uses a constricted German accent to great effect, abandoning his typical Michael Scott comic persona for someone even more insecure and struggling. Gru gets the big idea to steal the moon after new kid in town Vector (Jason Segel) starts upstaging him with dastardly deeds of his own, but Gru's plan is foiled when the Bank of Supervillains (formerly Lehman Brothers) won't float him a loan. Making matters worse, Gru's flashy new rival Vector steals the shrink ray Gru needed to capture the moon, and now all the evening news reports focus on Vector, with poor Gru stuck abusing his freeze ray and popping childrens' balloons for his evil deeds. For pretty flimsy reasons Gru decides that the only way to steal back his shrink ray is to adopt a trio of orphan girls, whom he plans to use as bait and otherwise ignore while locking them in the kitchen and tinkering away in his underground lair.
The girls-- voiced by Disney star Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier-- have other plans, of course, and slowly go about melting Gru's heart even when he'd rather skip the bedtime stories and let them walk to ballet class. Gru's developing relationship with the girls doesn't fit all that well with the supervillain rivalry plot, and the script by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul bounces somewhat haphazardly between family bonding and Gru's scheming in the basement. Each has their moments-- a trip to the amusement park is fun and funny, and a heist at Vector's house is pure well-executed tension-- but you miss the airtight script of a Pixar or DreamWorks Animation film, or even a plot that doesn't feel utterly predictable from moment to moment. It's also a shame to see all kinds of other talent, including Russell Brand as Gru's elderly lab assistant and Kristen Wiig as the meanie orphanage manager, either shoved to the sidelines or forgotten about entirely by the scattered script.
Adding insult to injury, an incomprehensible amount of screen time goes to Gru's minions, those little globular yellow guys in the overalls who scurry around Gru's lab doing all kinds of jobs and bear the brunt of the film's physical comedy. Clearly the studio and directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud think they've come across gold here, but the minions never develop distinct personalities or even meaning within the plot, popping up from time to time to be cute but, like all the other disjointed plots, never amounting to much. The focus on the minions, so disproportionate to their actual quality as characters, speaks again to the disorganization of Despicable Me, a movie with a few good ideas and vocal performances and no idea where to go with them.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich
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