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Blu-ray Review: Despicable Me

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For years Hollywood has been making live action movies about villains, and this summer saw animated features take up that some motif in two different films, Megamind and Despicable Me.  The latter of these two films has just been released on Blu-ray, meaning that we can all take home a villain of our very own this holiday season.

Starring Steve Carell as the voice of Gru, a dastardly super-villain with a vaguely Eastern European accent, the film is about one man’s plot to steal the moon.  Yes, that’s right he wants to steal the moon and he actually has a great way to go about it – he’s going to steal a shrink ray and then borrow money from the Bank of Evil to finance his building of a rocket which he can then fly to the moon, shrink, and hold for ransom.  This is an animated comedy, it need not revolve around anything remotely rational, practical, feasible, or even possible, and what’s more, despite – or because of – the foolishness, it all works.

A wrench gets thrown into Gru’s plan when another super-villain, Vector (Jason Segel), steals the shrink ray from Gru.  Gru isn’t the sort to let that sort of thing stop him, he just adds a couple of extra steps to his plan – he adopts some girls so that they can deliver cookies to Vector as a diversion so that Gru can steal the shrink ray back.  In rather obvious fashion, Gru grows to love to the girls and has some trouble reconciling his desire to steal the moon and be evil with this new found love.

From beginning to end, Despicable Me is a weird trip full of telegraphed but still funny jokes and a solid emotional core.  From the moment that Gru first adopts Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), there can be no doubt in any member of the audience’s mind that Gru is going to fall in love with them, learn to be a (slightly) better person, and that everything will work out in the end.  No, the only question is whether or not co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud can create enough amusing moments before the end to make the trip worthwhile.  The screenplay by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (with a story from Sergio Pablos) does, in fact, make that happen thanks to a trip to an amusement park; a visit from Gru’s mom (Julie Andrews); and the film’s version of Disney’s comic relief animal sidekicks, Gru’s Minions.

Taking a closer look at the last of these additions to the film, the Minions are these little, yellow, genetically engineered goofballs who are less than intelligent and yet help Gru out with his villainous plots (well, the Minions and Dr. Nefario voiced by Russell Brand help Gru).  They are the exact sort of creature which, were they used more, would prove incredibly annoying.  However, the Minions goofy high jinks are present only long enough to be a good diversion, they never wear out their welcome.

In fact, nothing in the 95 minute animated feature proves to be a mistake or letdown – it is one funny moment after the next.  Carell, Segel, Brand, Andrews, and the rest of the voice cast play every moment in an over the top fashion which works perfectly for an animated film about stealing the moon.  The biggest issue with the film has nothing to do with the movie itself.  The only real problem is that if you have to make a choice this year between seeing Universal/Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me or Pixar’s Toy Story 3, you’d be making a mistake by choosing Despicable Me.  It is a good movie, it is funny, and features solid computer animation, it just isn’t as good as Toy Story 3 in terms of plot, characters, or animation.  That may be something of an unfair comparison as Pixar as been leading the charge with computer animated movies for some time, but they remain the yardstick to which ever other film in the mold must be measured, and Pixar’s summer release this year was perhaps one of their best ever.  Despicable Me is a perfectly enjoy film, it is just choice number two in the genre.

The Blu-ray release of the feature comes as a three-disc combo pack, with disc number two containing a DVD version of the film and disc three with a digital copy.  For some reason, Universal has opted to put the digital copy disc solely in a paper sleeve rather than utilizing a case which could actually correctly seat all three discs.  It makes the set feel just a little disappointing every time you open it.  As for the bonus features with the film, there are three “mini-movies” which are more accurately described as shorts.  They feature the Minions and are just as fun as every other appearance of the Minions in the film.  There are also your standard behind-the-scenes featurettes, including one on the voice cast, one on the music, and one on the locations where the animation was actually done.  Those are all nominally interesting, but not particularly new nor noteworthy.  Also included are a couple of games (which never work well on a DVD or Blu-ray); some cookie recipes; and a commentary track with Coffin, Renaud, and some of the Minions (voiced by Coffin and Renaud).  It is also possible to watch the film in “Gru-Control.” Similar to a picture-in-picture track, Gru-Control has the minions interrupt the film from time to time and also features a couple of interviews.  It is a relatively amusing way to watch the film your second time through.

In terms of the Blu-ray’s technical aspects, it looks and sounds absolutely brilliant.  The animation is sharp, the details exceedingly good, and the colors bright and rich.  You truly get the sense watching it that anything the animators put into the film has been faithfully transferred to this release.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is equally good if not better.  It is a well-mixed track, with plenty of bass and great use of surrounds.  It squarely places you within the action, particularly with some of the scenes that are most obviously meant to be watched in 3D (a 3D release of the Blu-ray is also available).  There really is nothing to complain about in terms of either the audio or video presentation.

Despicable Me, from beginning to end, is an enjoyable film and it really is nice to Carell, who so often gets typecast into the role of the bumbling idiot, get to be a bad guy here.  Yes, he’s still bumbling and he’s not entirely bad, but it is still more than we usually get to see (or hear) from him.  The rest of the cast also performs well and the entire thing is fun.  The only thing that Despicable Me isn’t, is as good as Toy Story 3, and it may be an unfair comparison to make, but if you’ve seen Pixar’s latest, it’s a feeling you will be unable to shake.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.