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Despicable Me Doesn't Distinguish Itself From Better Alternatives

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Dec 17, 2010
<i>Despicable Me</i> Doesn't Distinguish Itself From Better Alternatives

DVD Release Date:  December 14, 2010

Theatrical Release Date:  July 9, 2010
Rating: PG (for rude humor and mild action) 

Genre:  Comedy

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.


Despicable Me joins the middle tier of animated films. It's not nearly as atrocious as some of the misfires from Disney or Don Bluth in recent decades, but Pixar has upped the ante substantially during that time. Although there's plenty of room for more good animated films from other studios—the Ice Age movies and Horton Hears a Who (also featuring the voice of Steve Carell and animation work from Despicable Me co-director Chris Renaud) were enjoyable crowd-pleasers—Despicable Me doesn't quite rise to even Horton quality. Although presented in 3D (at premium prices), there's little in Despicable Me that can't wait for video.


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  • Language/Profanity: A reference to dog feces; a death threat; two dishes are labeled "pee" and "poo"; a rule about "no burping or farting"; an inventor shows off a "fart gun" that sprays brown smoke; a carnival worker picks his nose; a mother refers to her son as a monkey
  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: None
  • Sex/Nudity: A picture of a bare-bottomed Gru as a baby; minions photocopy their undersides and chuckle at the printouts
  • Violence/Crime: A boy falls from a great height onto an inflated pillow; a bird is shot at; guns are cocked; orphans are threatened with confinement in the Box of Shame; Gru uses an ice gun to freeze the head of Vector; a shark chomps on Gru; missiles are aimed at Gru and they explode; minions fight each other; a girl is enclosed in a casket with spikes, and after the casket closes, red fluid pours out of the bottom (the fluid turns out to be juice); a child kicks a man in the shin; a minion grabs Gru between the legs; Gru appears to vomit; Gru destroys a carnival game; Miss Hattie smacks Gru with a dictionary; Vector gets an electrical shock; a surfer lands on rocks after the tide suddenly goes out
  • Stealing: The villains are competing to pull off the biggest theft the world has ever seen; previous jobs include theft of the Times Square jumbotron, and replicas of famous structures from Las Vegas
  • Religion: The girls pray to be adopted