I haven’t been to many movies lately, due to lack of funds and just a general disinterest in the public at large, but I made an exception to go see “Despicable Me”. Oh, and a friend paid for it, which was further incentive. I also don’t give many things reviews, and to date, this is my first online review of any movie, so I’m going to give it my best shot because I think this film deserves it.
The story follows a bald, hunch-backed man named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who is a russian-accented super-villain of less than super proportions. Once the world’s greatest super-villain when he was younger, he seems to have fallen half a step behind other super-villains when it comes to crime-sprees, and his efforts never really pay off, his greatest achievements to date being the theft of the Times Square Jumbo-tron and the mini-Statue of Liberty from Los Vegas. Between a financier who has lost faith in his ability due to his age and a mother who has never really taken an interest in him or his work, Gru spends a lot of time trying to prove that he is the greatest criminal mind of the century. The unfortunate problem, however, is that a new, younger super-villain named Vector (Jason Segel) has beaten him to the punch, having stolen the great pyramid of Giza and replacing it with an inflatable decoy. Gru realizes he has to up the ante if anyone is to take him seriously, so he devises a plan to steal the moon using a shrink ray that was currently being tested in a top secret lab in east Asia, with the help of his hundreds of little yellow corn-puff minions and a mad scientist named Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand). But mere seconds after having successfully stolen the shrink ray, Vector appears and snatches it from Gru’s clutches.
After many unsuccessful attempts at breaking into Vector’s fortress to steal the shrink ray back, he observes three little orphaned girls (Agnes, Edith, and Margo, who are selling cookies so they can have a better future) walk right up to the gate and into the doors without being shot at or attacked, and a plan formulated in his mind. The next day, he arrives disguised as a dentist at Miss Hattie’s Home for Girl’s (a rather exploitative orphanage in which girls are required to sell girl scout-type cookies for Ms. Hattie, voiced by Kristen Wiig) and insists adopting all three of the girls he’d seen the day before. The three of them are obviously less than excited about being adopted by a single and slightly deranged looking man, but they are determined to make the best of it. It’s clear immediately to the girls that Gru was not exactly sure what caring for children entailed (as he had put out candy and water in dog dishes for the girls) and spend much of their first day pushing his buttons and trying his patience. He gives in to most of their wishes, like accepting a ticket to their up-coming ballet recital, anxious to keep them happy long enough to get the plan over with, though refuses to perform any niceties unbecoming to a villain, like reading bedtime stories and fixing disintegrated toys.
His plan is basically to use the girls as a diversion; using the time spent delivering cookies to keep Vector distracted long enough to get in and out with the shrink ray. Once he had successfully stolen back the shrink ray, he is eager to get rid of the girls and takes them to an amusement park (where he originally intended to abandon them) only to find that he had begun to bond with them, much against his will. Once back home, he presents the shrink ray to his financier and asks for money to build a rocket that will take him to the moon. The financier refuses, telling Gru that he had already invested a lot of money in Gru and was no longer willing to support a villain that never delivered, but the truth is that the financier is in fact the father of Vector, who has taken on Gru’s plan to steal the moon. Gru, depressed, decides to give up on his dream of going to the moon, until the girls offer him the few meager pennies they had saved in order to help him realize his dream, after which his minions followed suit, offering up everything they had to build the rocket. Touched, Gru forges ahead with his plans, only to become less and less focused on this dream as he grows more and more attached to the girls. At one point, Dr. Nefario decides the only way to get Gru back on track is to return the girls and makes a call to the orphanage, relaying to Ms. Hattie that Gru doesn’t want the children anymore. Visibly heartbroken, Gru returns to his plans less enthusiastically that he had before, unable to put the girls out of his mind, while at the same time the girls attempt to acclimate to life without their new father-figure.
Finally, after all his scheming, he built the rocket, flew into space, shrunk the moon, and holds it his hand. In the midst of this triumph, he suddenly realized that he had time to make it to the girls ballet recital of swan lake. He flew as fast as he could back down to earth, crash-landing in the middle of the street, only to find the studio empty and the girls gone. Finding a note on one of the chairs labeled “Margo, Edith, and Agnes’s Dad” he flips it over to realize that it’s actually a ransom note left by Vector, who had stolen the girls to get the moon from Gru. After a long run of being rather wishy-washy and a little indifferent, Gru suddenly becomes a force to be reckoned with, having dodged six heat-seeking missiles and literally punching out a shark. Faced with Gru’s new-found strength and aggressive determination, Vector becomes frightened and decides to escape with the moon and the girls held captive in his escape pod. Following them, Nefario tells Gru that the shrink ray’s effects wear off faster depending on the size of the object that was shrunk. Gru realizes the girls are in eminent peril, as the moon is rapidly returning to it’s normal size and in danger of crushing the girls, and risks life and limb to save them, swearing he’d never give them up again no matter what. The movie ends with the girls performing a special ballet recital for Gru, his mother, Dr. Nefario, and all his minions on Gru’s assembly stage, during which Gru’s mother finally tells him that she is proud of him and complements him for becoming such a wonderful parent. This all naturally devolves into a disco dance number, after which Gru stands on the highest platform with his little girls looking up at the moon, where Vector is now stuck.
*End of Spoilers*
Even though I was excited to see it, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie, especially considering the cast of voice-actors they had hired for the parts. I’m not in the least a fan of Russell Brand, Steve Carell, or Jason Segal. Actually, in all honesty I wish I could say I’m not a fan, but the fact is that all three of these actors typically seem to take part in movies in which I have little to no interest. I just don’t like stupid humor. Call me old fashioned, but I think comedy should have some sort of substance and, well, wit to it. I’m not one of those people who can shut down their brains when watching films or believes that three hours of fart jokes are twice as enjoyable as an hour and a half of fart jokes. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the performances of all three, specifically because their voices are relatively unrecognizable. I was very pleased about that because it says, despite evidence to the contrary, that these actors actually have depth and range in their acting abilities and aren’t just leaning on their “strengths”. I have more respect for them now as actors knowing that they are able to think outside of their safe zone when it comes to characters, at least animated ones.
The next thing I really like about this movie is that you get a real sense of bonding and affection as the movie progresses. It’s very nice to see that computer animation has evolved to the point where it can evoke a genuine cathartic response in it’s audience. You feel as though, despite being completely fictional characters and animations, that there really is a love story going on and you get caught up in it. You’re also sympathetic to both Gru and to Margo, Edith, and Agnes and can identify with their search for acceptance and love. One of the greatest parts of this movie is that the characters are so well defined and relatable. Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), who is the oldest girl, feels responsible for the two younger ones and can be very bossy. She’s intelligent and assertive and seems able to sway Gru by using logic. Edith is the middle girl who shares Gru’s interest in weird and unusual things. She’s a little destructive and likes to blame other people when she breaks things, even when she is watched doing it. Anges, the smallest, is the epitome of a cute little girl and is funny in ways that she doesn’t mean to be, but is because she’s so little. She likes Gru from the very beginning and is the first to start chipping away at his little evil bubble with those giant, mind-controlling brown eyes of hers.
In the same token, I found Gru to be very likable. Despite being a “bad guy”, Gru is a really adorable character who, more than anything, craves love from his mother and acceptance from his peers. Physically, he resembles some sort of hairless bear who can look grumpy and menacing one moment and very cute and friendly the next. His desire to succeed as a villain is driven primarily by the need to feel validated by his mother, who is very critical of him and cuts him down at every opportunity, especially as a child, which has led to social awkwardness and a desperate need to prove himself as an adult. You understand early on that he’s not actually an evil person, which is evident from how he treats his minions (by paying them wages and giving them employee benefits as opposed to ruling over them with fear and intimidation, as well as knowing every single one of them by name) and also how his minions treat him (with respect and loyalty rather than mindless obedience and terrified servitude), and that more than anything else, he just wants love, recognition and appreciation from the people around him, which Margo, Agnes, and Edith grow to show him without condition, and which he in turn shows them.
Overall, this movie is really sweet and has some great one-liners and visual puns; its well spaced and keeps you laughing. And it’s so cute, it’ll make your head explode into kittens. Especially little Agnes, the doe-eyed cutie who everyone loves. Most notably, it has made me a fan of Steve Carell. I can’t find much fault with this movie and I think it’s something people of all ages could enjoy. I’ve heard that there may be a sequel, and while I generally dislike most sequels, I love this story and would like to see more become of it. Maybe Mr. Gru will find himself a lady-friend; who knows. I am eager to see where the story is taken in the future.