While Despicable Me is a very entertaining film, I cannot help but think Universal Studios was trying a little too hard to make a Pixar movie. Non-Pixar animation studios seem to have only recently found out what makes the animation giant so popular: heartwarming stories. While Despicable Me is certainly heartwarming, it is a little lacking in story.
The film focuses on a supervillain named Gru (Steve Carell), who seems more interested in being known as the greatest supervillain of all time instead of actually ruling the world or anything. His latest plan is to steal the moon. This may seem like a pretty hefty task, but Gru plans on using a shrink gun to make it pocket sized and thus easily snatchable. The only problem is the shrink gun is currently in the hands of a younger supervillain named Vector (Jason Segel), who’s fortress is heavily guarded. Gru recruits three young orphans (by adopting them) to sell cookies to Vector in order to get inside his fortress and take the gun. But as Gru’s nefarious plan begins to unfold, the girls begin to grow on him.
The story is presented as a triangle of conflicts, with Gru at the center. On one end we have the girls, who begin to stir up genuine emotions inside Gru, and on the other end we have Vector, who serves as a rival and a symbol of the younger generation of supervillains that are beginning to replace him as he steadily gets older. While Gru is caught up in the conflict to steal the moon and be hailed as the greatest supervillain of all time, the girls serve as motivation for him to put aside his evil ways and become a dad. This dual conflict forces Gru to make a choice: to have the moon or the girls. While I got caught up in this conflict when watching the movie, I couldn’t help but feel that I’ve seen it all before. It is essentially the same good vs evil debate that goes on within many movie protagonists. This is certainly debatable as to whether or not the movie could be considered unoriginal, because the motivations on either side of this conflict are pretty unique. That being said, this conflict was pretty much staring the audience right in the face, and it would have been nice to tone it down a bit and make it a little more subtle.
On the other hand, the animation and art direction was really quite good. The source of most of the humor in Despicable Me comes from Gru’s minions, which are tiny yellow creatures that look like thumbs. They talk in a strange language and are very hyperactive, making them both cute and funny at the same time. Design wise, everything in the film has a unique charm to it. Even Gru’s pointy nose holds a lot of character. His house is dark and sinister, his living room is filled with many pointed objects, and his car looks like a giant metal slug with a huge rocket engine strapped to its back.
The voice acting was also quite good. Many animated movies have been advertised as having numerous big names in the cast, but Despicable Me almost seems to hide its cast. With the exception of Steve Carell, most of the actors (Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, and Kristen Wiig in particular) don’t sound anything like themselves. They do such a good job disguising their voices that one is never distracted with somebody that sounds “just like that one guy.”
While the acting, art direction, and the heartwarming transformation of Gru make this film entertaining, it does not succeed in constructing a truly special story beyond the fact that the premise was unique. It’s a great summer movie for the kids, but I believe many people (including me) were looking for something a little more sophisticated and a little more clever in order to win over our adult hearts. That being said, it certainly had enough good aspects to warrant being called a “good movie.”
(All star ratings are out of five, with halves)
Virtual Cinematography: ***
Dialogue: *** 1/2
Art Direction: ****
Overall “Film as Entertainment” Rating: ****
Overall “Film as Art” Rating: ** 1/2
Overall: *** 1/2