Despicable Me

Despicable Me

****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

You wait decades for the release of an animated family film concerned with villains rather than heroes, and suddenly two come along. One of the central plot strands in Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's Despicable Me is a literal space-race between a pair of evildoers, each out to prove his supremacy in the world of supervillainy – and their rivalry looks set to repeat itself at the box office, as this first feature from Universal's new production house Illumination Entertainment enters battle with the similarly themed Megamind, coming out later in 2010 from the more established DreamWorks studio. Both films are eye-goggling polychromatic extravaganzas in 3D - but Despicable Me certainly sets a high bar for its competition to beat.

Deftly blending motifs from The Addams Family and The Incredibles, this is the story of accented antihero Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), a criminal mastermind manqué whose every semi-evil deed seems designed to impress his unimpressible mother (Julie Andrews, cast very much against Mary Poppins type).

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Living in a dark, gothic mansion in the middle of white-picket suburbia, Gru and his loyal army of dungaree'd minions carry out surreal acts of theft using weapons designed by the mad (and deaf) scientist Dr Nefario (Russell Brand). Recently, however, the younger villain Vector (Jason Segel) has emerged to steal Gru's thunder – and Vector's father just happens to be the chairman of the Bank of Evil ('formerly Lehman Brothers', as the sign on the door says).

With his usual line of credit blocked, Gru must prove himself by stealing the very Moon from the sky – but his plan, not to mention his whole sense of who he wants to be, is thwarted by the arrival on his doorstep of three orphan girls (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher) in search of a loving father…

Gru's gradual transformation from child-averse delinquent loner to responsible parent and cosily domesticated man is hardly surprising. After all, for years family films, from Finding Nemo to Chicken Little and from The Incredibles to Night At The Museum, have been directly addressing themselves at the conflicted feelings of dads on 'weekend duty' with their kids. Apparently this particular demographic just loves to be reminded of its wild years before being congratulated on what a great job of fathering it is now doing against all the odds – and so Despicable Me celebrates a man-child protagonist who learns that it is more fun trying to please his young wards than his own largely absent mother.

Meanwhile, there is entertainment aplenty for the kids (and the kid in all of us) offered by Gru's multitudinous, mischievous minions (voiced by directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, as well as Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clements) who, though not even in the film's original pitch, steal every scene with their childish antics. Like the orphan girls, these cute yellow-skinned critters look to Gru as their surrogate father – and in one telling sequence, when three of them are sent to a hypermarket on a purchasing mission, they choose to disguise themselves as a nuclear family. It is a model that the whole film in different ways questions and satirises, before ultimately reaffirming the value of any loving parent, whether single or married, biological or adoptive, good or evil. It would be a serious examination of the family in the postmodern age, were it not so laugh-out-loud funny.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2010
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A super-villain plots to steal the Moon.
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Read more Despicable Me reviews:

Leanne McGrath ****

Director: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Writer: Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos, Cinco Paul

Starring: Voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Julie Andrews

Year: 2010

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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