Offering further proof that it’s very much game on in the animated movie marketplace, Despicable Me sees Universal scoring significant success, with a film that’s already eaten up a lot of cash at the US box office over the summer. As it turns out, it deserves it too.
The film tells the story of supposed-super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who oversees an army of minions and plots dastardly schemes that don’t always go to plan. And Gru’s problem is that there’s a new, more successful villain in town by the name of Vector. Thus, the race is on to pull off the most audacious heist which, in Gru’s case, leads to a plan to seize the moon.
So far, so blah. Yet, Despicable Me has plenty in its corner to lift it into a genuinely rip-roaring piece of family entertainment. And while it’s not in the Pixar class, and certainly has schooled itself in the firm’s back catalogue, there’s enough here to give the movie an indentity of its own.
The big assets are the minions, the sparingly used collection of yellow critters who help Gru in his masterplans. Reminding me just a little of the videogame Overlord, the minions here are an absolutely hoot. Sold to us in huge numbers, yet with enough individual personalities to make them work, the minions are responsible for many of the film’s big laughs, and also a terrific end credits sequence that has more fun with 3D on the big screen than any film in recent memory.
The trick here, as with Ice Age once upon a time, is to keep the minions to a limited number of moments, leaving you yearning for more. It can’t help but remind you of Ice Age‘s Scrat, who was a side character in the first film, but got diluted as he was used more and more in the sequels. Here’s hoping Despicable Me 2 doesn’t make the same mistake.
Let’s hope, too, that it keeps the humour quotient so high. Appreciating that much of the story is quite conventional when you dig into it, the filmmakers here layer the movie with really solid laughs, happily playing to older and younger audiences too. And furthermore, the character of Gru is a successful one, made more so by the decision to keep him a villain, rather than turn him into something soft and fluffy within 20 minutes of the film starting (although the mawkish elements aren’t entirely absent, sadly).
There are downsides to the film, mind. As well put together as the film certainly is, it’s nonetheless a derivative one at heart. Furthermore, it spends a decent chunk of time with three orphan children, and while this doesn’t quite go down the soft and cuddly route, it’s very clear early on that they’re there for a reason.
I’m also finding myself decreasingly impressed by movie star voice casts too. While Carell brings some distinction to the tones of Gru and Julie Andrews is a welcome addition as his never-impressed mother, I can’t help but think that most of the voice talent here never gets the chance to impose their identity. Contrast that with something like Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, or numerous Pixar movies, and Despicable Me doesn’t quite fare so well.
However, the film is still something of a triumph. And the primary reason for that? Because it understands why its audience has come to see it. It’s got a good pace to it, is packed full of comedic and action-packed moments, features interesting characters, and by the time the credits roll, the thought of spending a lot more time with Gru and his outstanding minions is likely to be forefront in your mind.
Universal’s animation output is going to take some time to get anywhere near to Pixar, but with Despicable Me, the likes of DreamWorks and Sony have some very potent competition.
Roll on the sequel…