Director : s Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Screenplay : Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (story by Sergio Pablos)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2010
Throughout the 3-D computer-animated comedy Despicable Me, the film’s classically villainous villain, a hunched, bald, heavily accented heavy named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), is surrounded by a nattering army of “minions,” which look like yellow pills with goggles and overalls, and they are the funniest thing in the movie. First-time feature directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud use this boisterous bunch of absurd assistants for all manner of comic inventiveness: verbal gags (they talk nonsense and sound like Munchkins on helium, yet we always know exactly what they’re saying), slapstick (they’re prone to knocking each other over and shoving each other out of the way like hyperactive children), visual support for other gags (such as when they play the role of breathless fans awaiting Gru’s rock-concert arrival in his underground lair), and background filler to give the film an added level of zany eye candy in a movie that is literally popping at the seams with it.
It is fitting that Despicable Me’s funniest element is a haphazard collection of pint-sized clowns since the movie itself is a similarly haphazard collection of espionage parody and familial sentimentality, both of which have their ups and downs. The film’s inherent (and delightful) weirdness is a result of both its status as an international production (the imagery was designed by the French animation/special effects house Mac Guff Ligne, which it why it has a decidedly European flair to its visual caricatures and chic modernist layouts) and the fact that it was written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, who first broke into feature writing with the now-forgotten Bubble Boy (2001), surely one of the most whacked-out, “how-did-they-get-this-greenlit?” Hollywood comedies of the past decade.
Drawing on any number of James Bond villains, but particularly Donald Pleasance’s immortal Blofield (who was also parodied so brilliantly by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies), Gru is a supervillain who aspires to little more than being known as a supervillain. Thus, the movie presents a curious twist on evildoing in a media-saturated world of celebrity and fandom as their own rewards. Gru never seems to want to actually hurt anyone, but rather just stay in the spotlight, which he plans to do by pulling off the true crime of the century: steal the moon using a stolen shrink ray (developed by the North Koreans--take that Kim Jong Il!) and a rocketship designed by his even more heavily accented in-house scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand). The only thing standing in his way is Vector (Jason Segel), an egomaniacal, track-suited nerd who aspires to his own brand of supervillainy; he’s like Bill Gates gone terribly, terribly wrong. If Gru, with his foreboding, gothic domicile (smack in the middle of suburbia) and industrialized tank of a car, is the old school, then Vector, with his sleek, color-coordinated iFortress of computerized mayhem, is the rowdy new generation that doesn’t respect its elders.
For narrative reasons that are frankly too tortured in their ridiculousness to merit recounting here, Gru’s plan to steal the moon ultimately relies on three cutsey, cookie-selling orphans: the Tina Fey-ish Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), the tomboy Edith (Dana Gaier), and ultra-cute, unicorn-obsessed Agnes (Elsie Fisher). To use them, Gru must adopt the girls from an orphanage run by the sweet-sounding, but malicious Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig), and I don’t think I’m ruining it for anyone to suggest that Gru’s nefarious plans ultimately take a backseat to his growing affection for the little girls, who remind him of his own tarnished childhood (he was ignored and dismissed by his mother, voiced by Julie Andrews) and reawaken in him the love of things simple and sweet, rather than dark and nasty.
Gru’s embrace of adoptive fatherhood works because he is such an unlikely father; noting the prevalence of extremely sharp and dangerous objects in his suburban castle (including an iron maiden), Margo rightly asks, “Do you think this place is safe for children?” Safe it is not, and Despicable Me has a fun time putting the girls in danger (not just from the sharp instruments, but also from Gru’s piranha-like “dog”) before showing that pluck, cheer, and innocence ultimately trump evil. It’s a simplistic message, to be sure, but one that is delivered with an energetic mix of dark humor and emotional genuineness that makes it go down quite easily.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Universal Pictures