Gru (Steve Carell) takes pride in being the world’s greatest thief. That is, until he learns that there is a bigger fish in the pond named Vector (Jason Segel), who out did his opponent’s best by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza! Gru must come up with an even grander theft – shrink the moon and steal it – to keep his greatest status intact. However, three little orphan girls show up on his doorstep selling cookies and throw a wrench into Gru’s evil plans in “Despicable Me.”
Borrowing liberally, plot wise, from “Up,” “Monsters, Inc.” and other Pixar animations, “Despicable Me” is a delightful, funny little movie that had me laughing frequently and loudly. This is not a common occurrence for me. Most comedies, like “Grown Ups,” leave me mostly stone faced and maybe elicit a chuckle or two. Right from the start of “Despicable Me,” when the Great Pyramid turns out to be a fake, Vector having somehow stolen the real McCoy, I laughed. To my great pleasure, it continues in this comedic vein right to the end.
Gru, to fulfill his nefarious scheme, must first steal a shrink ray gun that happens to be in Vector’s hands. This is when the girls – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier) – show up to sell him cookies for Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls. Of course, he brushed them off, slamming the door in their tiny, shiny faces. Then, “Lightbulb!” If he pretends to adopt the moppets, he can get into Vector’s heavily fortified lair, steal the ray gun and, “Bob’s your uncle,” the moon will be his.
What Gru does not expect is to have the girls take hold of his heart, making him question his pride at being despised by all the world. What ensues is Gru’s inner battle between his desire to be the greatest criminal ever and his stronger desire to protect the girls who adopted him. The adventure is more comic than Carl’s and Russell’s in “Up” but right up there in its excitement quotient, down to its exciting aerial chase in the finale.
First time animated feature co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud did their homework (mostly watching Pixar movies is my guess) and turn Sergio Pablos’s charming story (adapted by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul) into a real treat. Steve Carell is perfect voicing Eastern Europe-born Gru, imbuing his character with sharp wit in his terrific comic delivery. Jason Segel is fun as the sweat suit clad Vector and Julie Andrews has a good time as Gru’s less than affectionate mum. The girls voicing the girls are a pitch perfect trio of kids. Russell Brand is only so-so as the mad scientist, Dr. Nefario, supplier of evil inventions to Gru.
“Despicable Me” is a true for-all-ages animation but it leans more to us adult than to little kids, though they will like it too, especially Gru’s amusing minions. This is one that I will give more than a few watchings in the future. A fun, funny movie is a good thing. I give it a B+.
When the Great Pyramid of Giza is stolen, Gru's mother (voice of Julie Andrews) calls to congratulate him, but Gru (voice of Steve Carell) didn't do it. Not only must Gru now come up with a plan to top that stunt, but he must get funding to do so in order to still proudly call himself "Despicable Me."
Universal Studios hasn't been a big player in the animation field to date, but this one, albeit heavily indebted to Pixar, should put them on the map. Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (2007 Oscar nominee for animated short "No Time for Nuts") direct a 3D computer generated tale about a professional villain undone by the love of three orphaned little girls that is witty, funny, visually stylish and heartwarming and Steve Carrell gives an inspired vocal performance as Gru, a round dark man with a round bald head sharply adorned with a long pointy nose.
Gru orders up some new dastardly devices from his partner in crime, the hard of hearing Dr. Nefario (voice of Russell Brand, "Get Him to the Greek"), then gathers his minions, a swarm of one and two-eyed bright yellow nubs, to announce his plans to steal - the moon! But when he discovers that his banker Mr. Perkins (voice of SNL's Will Arnett) is now underwriting the guy who stole the pyramid, who just happens to be his own son, Vector (voice of Jason Segel, TV's "How I Met Your Mother"), Gru realizes he'll have to steal Vector's shrink ray in order to accomplish his mission. His initial effort fails - hilariously - and then he remembers those three little girls who tried to sell him cookies - one of Vector's major weaknesses.
Ken Daurio's ("Bubble Boy," "Horton Hears a Who!") script and the story by animator Sergio Pablos owe a lot to Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.," where one half of some dueling 'bad' guys (Sulley and Mike, whose simple design seems like a prototype for Gru's minions, vs. Randall Boggs) are undone by a little girl (Boo, whom Agnes, the youngest here, is obviously modeled on) and "Up," where a cranky old guy ends up performing a mid-air rescue of a youngster who previously bugged him. But if you're going to 'borrow,' borrow from the experts and stamp your own personality on the material, something which this filmmaking team has clearly done, beginning with the exemplary production design and art direction. Gru drives around his hilly small town in an enormous belching vehicle which makes parking a gaseous gag. His home, with its crocodile couch and rhinoceros arm chair, is like something out of the Addams Family. The girls have an impact on his home, from their crayon art on a hallway wall to their choice of bedtime reading - The Three Little Kittens, a finger puppet book which not only parallels their own tale (and homage to Boo's 'Kitty?') but later inspires Gru to create his own . It's also reflected in the film's best visual gag - Gru's face (I won't spoil it here) upon returning home from an impromptu trip to the amusement park. Vector's space age abode reminds one of the Jetson's, but he's got a great white pool beneath his floor and that pyramid - painted sky blue with clouds to 'blend in' - in his backyard.
Gru himself is a great creation - like Uncle Fester crossed with the cartoon thieves of "101 Dalmatians" or "The Family Dog," and Carrell's cartoony Peter Lorre whine is comic genius. Also terrific are the three very different little girls. The eldest, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove, TV's "iCarly"), is common sense bookish. In the middle, Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) is the pink stocking hatted tomboy. Agnes (voice of Elsie Fisher) is Boo II, but Fisher makes her her own with her ferocious 'fluffy' line readings. Russell Brand somehow has made himself sound elderly as Nefario, an inspired piece of casting. Getting Julie Andrews to play Gru's kick boxing mom sounds like a good idea on paper, but the character's comedy potential is wasted. Vector is also a rather uninteresting bad guy and Segal does little to shore the character up.
The ubiquitous 3D doesn't really add much, a roller coaster ride excepted, but it doesn't distract either. "Despicable Me" may have roots in animations that have come before, but those are heirloom roots and they've produced a splendid hybrid.
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