Despicable Me Doesn't Distinguish Itself From Better Alternatives
- Friday, July 09, 2010
DVD Release Date: December 14, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: July 9, 2010
Rating: PG (for rude humor and mild action)
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Actors: Voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segal, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Kristin Wiig, Will Arnett, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher
Has Pixar ruined the animated film? Of course not—it's simply raised the bar for all other contenders in the world of animation, and that's a good thing.
Dreamworks has seen success with its Shrek series, but many other studios have failed to get a foothold in the world of animation. That hasn't stopped them from trying, however, because they know that no audience segment is more grateful for good entertainment, and more willing to support it through repeated viewings, than the family audience. When a good animated film finds that audience, the profits can be massive during both the film's theatrical run and in its afterlife on home video.
Universal has taken another stab at animation with Despicable Me, a story that bears some resemblance to Pixar's The Incredibles and has some of the irreverence of the Shrek series, but the final result never flies as high as those films. Despite a few good moments, Despicable Me feels more like a missed opportunity than a home run—especially when Toy Story 3 is still in theaters, reminding audiences of how good an animated story can be.
Gru (voice of Steve Carell) is one of the world's top thieves. He lives in a nice neighborhood, but stays in the bowels of his home, dreaming up ways with Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and several little green helpers called minions to one-up his earlier acts of villainy.
His contentment turns to resentment when he learns that another villain, Vector (Jason Segal), has pulled off the theft of an Egyptian pyramid, putting Vector in a class by himself. The closest Gru has come to that level was his theft of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty replicas from Las Vegas.
When a banker informs Gru that there's no profit in his villainy, Gru fights back by plotting his greatest theft yet: He wants to literally steal the moon. He'll build a rocket, fly into space, shrink the moon down to manageable size using a shrink-ray gun, and return home to be declared the Greatest Villain of All Time. "That's what I'm talking about!" Gru proclaims—one of several silly lines, delivered with an amusing accent courtesy of Carell.
Gru's longing for recognition stems from childhood, when his mother (Julie Andrews) cruelly brushed off Gru's attempts to gain her attention. So consumed is Gru with his plan that he enlists the help of three orphan girls (voices of Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher) who stop by his home to sell cookies. Although he treats them like pets rather than like human beings, they slowly awaken fatherly instincts within Gru.
There's nothing egregiously wrong with Despicable Me, but it has few surprises. Gru is somewhat likeable in his flailing attempts to commit dastardly deeds, but his quest to be the world's greatest villain isn't exactly the type of cause most viewers will want to get behind. Kids will enjoy some of the physical and scatological humor, but adults may find their minds wandering. Far from an excruciating experience, Despicable Me doesn't have any one element that sets it apart from other, better animated films: no great vocal performance (Carell is fun, but rarely inspired), no great jokes, no unpredictability to its story. A heartwarming finale sends audiences out on a high note, but much of the early going feels joyless, if not soulless, and getting past that stretch may test the endurance of older audience members.
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