Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Review: Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010)

It's hard to believe that there was a time when family films were thought box office poison, animation was virtually a lost art, and doing a voice-over was a sign of terminal career decline.  Today, family films are cranked out by the dozen every year, studios push the envelope of 3D CGI animation technology, and A-list actors lend their voices for eight-figure pay cheques.  Not to mention that the screenwriting and direction are often tauter and better executed than their "adult" counterparts.

I'm more than happy with this renaissance because being the father of an elementary school daughter means that I see a lot of these films; always more than once and often at least 874,965 times.  If it weren't for offerings like Despicable Me, I'd be standing stark naked on the roundabout by now hurling dead squirrels at passing cars.

One of the first modern 3D films to be produced with the technique in mind, Despicable Me is a fairly simple story that fleshes out its straightforward plot with fully formed characters, genuine wit, and nicely framed sight gags.  Felonious Gru is the "despicable me" of the title and despicable he is, though his villainy is generally confined to popping children's balloons, queue cutting at the coffee shop with a freeze ray, and refusing to water his lawn.  He's also a master thief–provided you're as impressed as his strange little "minions" are by his half-inching the Jumbotron from Times Square and the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower... from Las Vegas.  Now Gru has his sights on his greatest prize: the Moon.  Unfortunately, before he can steal it he needs a loan from the bank to build a rocket and to get that he needs to steal back the shrink ray stolen from him by rival villain Vector.  Everyone up to speed?  Good.  To retrieve the shrink ray, Gru hits on the idea of adopting three cute little orphan girls and use them to slip by Vector's defences.   Gru is, of course, a curmudgeon who can't wait to get shot of the kids and the girls are an adorable handful, so you see where this is going.

The script is witty; tight enough to keep things moving, but loose enough to exploit improvisational talents such as Steve Carrell and Russell Brand.  The directors keep things moving along and they also make the clever choice of making Gru a Cold War stainless steel sort of a villain versus Vector, who is pretty much what everyone suspects Bill Gates is like on the weekends.  Despicable Me isn't a demanding film.  There isn't any tear-jerking, musical numbers are mercifully absent, and there aren't any huge set pieces, but it is a nicely contained little story that sews everything up neatly and dramatically at the end.

Hopefully, the producers will go the Pixar route and take this as a sign that no sequel is needed.

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