by M. Faust
Pixar Light: Despicable Me
It’s not a Pixar movie, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is: This debut feature from Illumination Entertainment certainly works hard enough to mine that style, and doesn’t mind admitting it. The film even opens with a parody of Pixar’s hopping-desklight logo.
And while they ran the risk of setting themselves up to too high of a standard, Despicable Me succeeds enough to be welcomed by millions of parents who don’t want to have to sit through Toy Story 3 again.
The unheroic hero of the title is Gru, a supervillain at the top of his game. He looks like a taller version of Charles Addams’ Uncle Fester, with a fussy manner that Americans will have no trouble identifying as European.
Best of all, he is voiced by Steve Carell, who does the finest job of creating a memorable character by voice alone since Mike Meyer’s Shrek. Gru sounds like a Russian bullfrog, with big round vowels and precise enunciation that are a delight to listen to.
(This seems like an appropriate place to complain about animated films that hire name-value actors to voice their characters only to render them indistinct. That’s not the case here: If you’re a Steve Carell fan, you have reason enough to see this movie even if you don’t have young’uns in tow.)
Gru lives in a sedate suburban neighborhood, albeit in a house that stands out from its neighbors by dint of its size and coloration. (It’s the same juxtaposition of comic book style and the mundane that drove The Incredibles.) When not carrying out spectacular thefts with the aid of his Q-like assistant Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and an army of squeaky yellow sausage-shaped henchmen, he amuses himself with smaller acts of villainy like causing traffic jams with his oversized car (think a Hummer on steroids) and ruining his neighbor’s lawn.
Gru’s glory in his accomplishments takes a hit when he runs into the same hurdle that stymies so many other independent businessmen: financing. His application for a loan at the Bank of Evil (“formerly Lehman Brothers”) is turned down by a bank president who sniffs that feats like stealing the Times Square Jumbotron haven’t exactly been profitable.
Worse, he has a rival, a geeky nerd named Vector (Jason Segel), who has eclipsed Gru’s exploits by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza. To reclaim his eminence, Gru hatches a plan involving three orphan girls whose cookie-selling talents can get them into otherwise hard-to-access places.
Of course, one doesn’t simply rent or hire orphans. One is required to adopt them. Sighing frequently for dramatic effect (that being the kind of long-suffering villain he is), Gru signs the papers and brings the orphan trio into his house.
I won’t deny that the remainder of the plot is as predictable as a Buffalo mayoral race. But his isn’t the kind of movie you go to for story surprises. Gru’s Grinchian development is accomplished efficiently without getting too much in the way of the movie’s humor, which includes such tangents as flashbacks to an unhappy childhood with a mother (Julie Andrews) who never had faith in him.
Of course, you don’t make a film for mass audiences these days with out 3D, and Despicable Me is no exception. Whether it was initially designed for 3D or if much of it was converted after production had begun, I couldn’t say: The effects seem perfunctory for the most part. The two exceptions—a scene in an amusement park that mostly reminded me why I hate rollercoasters, and a clever end credits sequence—give the impression of last-minute additions. Like most 3D movies, what you gain in “Wow!” factor doesn’t make up for the general muckiness the process brings with it—I would happily sacrifice the illusion of depth for a movie that didn’t look like I was watching it through a glass of pond water.
In other words, if it costs extra to get into the 3D version, save yourself some money and see the 2D one instead. It will be just as funny and you won’t be missing much.
Watch the trailer for Despicable Me
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