Universal’s first 3D-animated movie “Despicable Me” is a generous mix of German Expressionism, a Spy vs. Spy vibe and The Jetsons. It is stylish, gently funny and should be a big hit with kids and adults alike. It’s not exactly “Toy Story 3” but it is as close as we’re likely to get until the next Pixarian offering comes barrelling into theatres.
Bad guys don’t come much worse than Gru (voice of Steve Carell). He’s a supervillain, complete with minions, an evil genius assistant (Russell Brand), a panda skin rug in his lair and a plan to shrink the moon. The only things standing in his way are Vector (Jason Segel), a Bill Gates look-a-like rival evil overlord who is determined to throw a wrench into Gru’s plan, and Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) three orphan girls who force him to rethink his diabolical dealings.
“Despicable Me” has lots to recommend it. State of the art 3D animation, good voice work (more on that later) and lots of grin worthy moments, but despite all that it is the jellybean shaped minions who steal the show. They speak gibberish, ineptly do Gru’s bidding and supply most of the film’s memorable laughs. Swag-Are-Us is sure to have shelves full of the little buggers and for once I get it. Dammit! I want a minion, either real or stuffed. Doesn’t matter.
The script stays on track and, with the exception of one jab at Lehman Brothers—they’re the namesake of the Bank of Evil—avoids the trap of peppering the story with current pop culture jokes. Too often kid’s animated movies rely on current references for humor, but looking back, how effective is the Arsenio Hall impression in “Aladdin” for today’s audiences. Funny at the time for sure, but eighteen years later it can hardly be called timeless. “Despicable Me,” like the Pixar films, avoids that trap and instead relies on humor that arises from the situations and characters and a good dollop of heart to sell the story.
More traditionally, for today’s animated features, the casting tends towards big stars, but unlike so many other animated films that shape characters around their celebrity counterparts—“Madagscar” I’m looking at you— “Despicable Me” actually contains some very nice voice work. Carell, the name-above-the-title star could have easily brought his familiar Michael Scott intonation to the role and everyone would have been pleased, but instead he actually creates an unrecognizable voice—it’s sort of a cross between Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi—that is more than just an extension of his well-known comic persona. It’s a great performance even though we never actually see him on screen.
If “Toy Story 3” and “How to Train Your Dragon” hadn’t come out last month “Despicable Me” would be the best animated movie of the year so far.