Despicable Me is a delightful film with much to offer families and any movie-goer looking for fun in a film. It was co-directed by relative newcomers: Pierre Coffin, Gary’s Fall 2003, and Chris Renaud, in production on The Lorax and creator of No Time for Nuts, a short on the Ice Age DVD. I watched previews for Despicable Me with some cynicism thinking: “Here we have yet another piece of CGI predictability.” I was pleasantly proven wrong, however, when the characters, writing, and voice performances turned me around 180 degrees. I haven’t been this impressed with an animated film since Meet the Robinsons (2007). In the same way Robinson’s does, Despicable Me does more than entertain us: it shows a portrait of our humanity.
Without giving away too much, the movie is about Gru, a super-villain who is trying to recover a shrink ray from Vector, another super-villain. After multiple efforts to penetrate Vector’s lair, Gru discovers Vector’s weakness for girl scout cookies as he lets girl scouts come past the gate. Gru then gets a “lightbulb” and surreptitiously adopts three girl scouts from a local orphanage to do his bidding. Gru quickly learns what caring for kids is all about, and the girls prove less expendable than he thought.
There are some big names behind the voices in this movie; most are incredible performances. Steve Carell brings a superstar appeal to the film’s marketing. Having said that, I don’t find anything extra special about his voice in the film. He does an okay job as “Gru,” the Pinocchio nosed, Russian-accented villain who becomes an unwitting dad. The CGI is what makes his character amazing. His legs are unnaturally spindly and belie his enormous rotund body. He’s hilarious without uttering a word. I really liked Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life and most everything he does. He has a great personality-filled voice, but I think he served more to get people into the movie than to give Gru a memorable voice.
The other characters are a whole different story. The actors doing the voices for the girls, (Margo: Miranda Cosgrove, Edith: Dana Gaier, and Agnes: Elsie Fisher), Miss Hattie (the adoption lady): Kirsten Wig, and Vector: Jason Segel, are noteworthy and special. They provide a sonic reality to the animation rarely seen in the minions of CGI animated movies nowadays.
This movie is being marketed as a villain movie. It is indeed that for a while, but eventually it moves to a wider encompassing place. The juxtaposition of such an evil guy, Gru, with three sweet little kids lends the movie a global warmth, taking it beyond a potentially one-dimensional villain movie with just “neat” effects. I think it will have mass appeal with family movie-goers. It made me want to hug my kids. Comic relief is provided by the “minions,” amazing little yellow tubes that serve Gru and do many hysterical things. Interesting trivia: the minions are voiced by the two directors of the movie, Coffin and Renaud.
Vector is a great “villain’s villain.” You love to hate him. He is reminiscent of villains we’ve seen in the past, but Jason Segel brings new character to the villain we love to hate. I had to stay after and watch the credits because the voice was just so familiar to me. I was a big fan of him in I Love You Man and, when I saw his name in the credits, it was a V8 head-smacking moment. Segel does a great job voicing the true villain in this film.
The littlest girl Agnes is beautifully portrayed. The scenes when she talks to Gru begging for a bedtime story get me to the core. I would say any father in the theater could attest to the same. I’ve already alluded to it twice but I will say it again that I feel the audio performances like the one of Agnes make this a unique and special animated film.
To wrap this, I recommend Despicable Me to families and people who appreciate more than just visuals in an animated movie. The characters, writing, and voice performances work together to make this film exceptional. Despicable Me made me glad I spent my $10 and 95 minutes at the movies.