Despicable Me with its limited and unobtrusive 3D is likable enough to make the most poker faced dad sweat a tear and forgettable enough to never compare with Pixar and Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. It’s a serviceable step into the lucrative children CGI animated market for Universal that squanders some potentially colorful characters and clever plot to reach out and make the youngest of kiddos giggle.
Steve Carell puts on an Eastern European accent and disguises his voice for a change in performing Gru, an aging super villain whose limited success and young upstart competitor villains are limiting his options to be infamous throughout the world. With facial expressions a near match for the comedian, Gru hatches his most ambitious plan yet once learning a younger rival, Vector (Jason Segel), has successfully swiped one of the Pyramids at Giza. He’ll need a fancy weapon that shrinks anything to accomplish the feat but Vector cuts in on Gru’s heist and ends up with the gun tucked away in his seemingly impenetrable fortress.
A trio of orphan girls (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier) selling cookies to a hungry Vector present Gru with a golden opportunity to steal the weapon back. He could just have easily tricked the girls into helping him gain access, but the story requires Gru to adopt the girls – which he does without an inkling of hesitation or study of consequences. Once the girls begin to flash their puppy dog eyes in his direction, Gru learns all the basic lessons of fatherhood versus a career the hard way.
Getting to know the girls is nearly impossible as each are underdeveloped to the extent that it’s hard enough to remember their names, much less which name goes with which. The plot jumps around wildly between Gru’s scheming and the girl’s plight that the appearance of one always seems to subtract from the other. A Pixar film would not make this mistake which is yet another in a long list of reasons we take their storytelling skills for granted.
More emphasis is gifted to Gru’s small army of diminutive one and two-eyed minions whose speech is unintelligible and antics aimed at the 5 and under set. Some of the sidetracked scenes to follow them behaving like fools are momentum killers to the narrative, but the young kids will be giggling like maniacs with each head butt, face smack and Xeroxing of buttocks.
Minions are involved in a clever gag or two and there’s several more including Gru confronting a cheating game at a theme park, a hilarious bank name and even an Easter Egg spoof of Blu-ray Disc. More than enough chuckles are had after the first 15 or so minutes are done juggling weak character introductions on top of a collection of non-stop songs.
When Gru and his girls are given the opportunity to interact there are some truly touching moments and adult themes that dads will feel moved by more than anyone else. The blame for why Despicable Me wasn’t released to coincide with Father’s Day can probably be pointed at Toy Story 3, but its final act all but demands a June release.
Despicable Me ranks somewhere beneath Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs but certainly higher than the last two Ice Age sequels. It will never be compared with a Pixar outing but stands well enough on its own unique concept and gags to effectively entertain.
– Dan Bradley