Friday, July 9, 2010

Despicable Me

Pixar seems to have cornered the market on family films that provide equal measure of comedy and action with the kind of dramatic moments assured to pull at your heartstrings. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a niche left to be filled. Sometimes you just want to sit down to an animated film and have fun (without that punch to the soul or shedding a tear). For those looking for good kid films filled with plenty of laughs and paced within an inch of their life you could do far worse than Despicable Me

Gru (Steve Carell) is a super-villain who never quite hit it big. Sure he's caused trouble with his freeze ray at the local Sarbucks or terrorized traffic with his giant tank-like automobile. And with the help of his legion of minions he's stolen small artifacts from around the world. But Gru has never made the big score, and his chances are running out as new, younger super villains like Vector (Jason Segel) are looking to take his place. His latest scheme involving a shrink ray and an attempt to steal the moon may be his last chance to grab the fame which has forever eluded him.

From his childhood Gru has always had a fascination with the moon, as we learn in flashbacks of the young Gru with his hard-to-please mother (Julie Andrews). Now his ultimate scheme puts his childhood fantasies within his grasp. And that's when three young, and appropriately adorable, orphans cross his path: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher), and Edith (Dana Gaier). At first they are just a means to an end, but soon Gru learns that fatherhood may suit him better than villainy.

What follows is your typical "worst choice for a parent turns out to be uniquely suited to it" kinda film. I'm sure there's a shorter name for this genre but it eludes me. Despicable Me doesn't break new any ground in terms of storytelling, but it does provide a rich world where we don't mind sitting back and enjoying the (mostly predictable) ride. Will Gru prove to be a good father? Will he discover new levels of his own humanity? Will he forgo his one chance at greatness to see the girls' dance recital? You can probably guess (though the film does throw a couple of small curveballs to put its own spin on the tale).

Though the plot may be formulaic the film is filled with humorous and engaging characters. Carrell is terrific (and almost unrecognizable) as Gru, but its the three adorable girls who really make the film. If there are more adorable young female characters in recent movies I haven't seen them. Given the high amount of action I'm not sure that young girls were necessarily the target audience the film was going for, but I think they will have as much fun with the film as their snails and puppy dog tails counterparts.

The film also boasts a a deep reserve of supporting characters including the countless minions who provide no end of slapstick shenanigans, the mad scientist (Russell Brand) with the slight hearing disability, the head of the Orphanarium (Kristen Wiig) and her box of shame, and Gru's monsterous dog who isn't afraid of anything except little girls. The only character who began to wear on me was Vector himself, though to be fair he is the one audiences are supposed to be rooting against. I did, however, like his shark.

The plot may be simple and the outcome far from surprising, but the film boasts a tremendous amount of heart and the journey getting to those final scenes is never taxing. The 3-D is good, though it may not be worth the higher ticket price it's definitely better and more impressive than recent hastily retrofitted films like The Last Airbender. And clocking just over 90 minutes the movie doesn't overstay its welcome. Despicable Me may not be a great film, but it's a solid animated adventure for kids that parents should be able to enjoy as well.

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