Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Ken Jeong, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Elsie Fisher, Julie Andrews
Rated: PG for rude humor and mild action
Running time: 95 minutes
Bottom line: Uproarious and heart-warming
“Despicable Me” shouldn’t work as well as it does.
The story leaves open all sorts of logical holes, and it’s about a gruff and seemingly uncaring man who adopts three cute kids. Not exactly original stuff (“Up” covered a lot of that territory last year).
But the movie wins us over with rapid-fire slapstick and an exuberant, sincere charm. And it’s just plain funny. I was having so much fun I barely noticed the flaws.
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a supervillain with an Eastern European accent. A mad, white-haired scientist named Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and scores of little yellow, pill-shaped minions assist Gru with his evil, elaborate schemes. He’s been on top of the supervillain world for quite some time (apparently there are no superheroes, only supervillains?).
But lately a newcomer named Vector (Jason Segel) has begun to upstage Gru, especially when Vector steals an entire pyramid and replaces it with an inflatable replica. (Nobody notices for a while.) Gru plans to steal the Moon — yes, the Moon — to reclaim his reputation as the world’s greatest supervillain.
However, Vector seems to always be one step ahead of him, and Gru’s a little short on funds. So he visits the “Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers)” to ask for a loan, but loan officer Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett) turns him down. Gru’s mother (Julie Andrews) has never been very supportive, and suddenly her lack of approval starts to sting worse than it ever has.
Gru keeps trying, though, and soon he concocts a scheme to steal the Moon, defeat Vector, and make his mother proud — but he needs the help of three particular orphan girls, adorable sisters named Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher).
If that sounds like a bunch of over-elaborate devices just to get a craggy, aging character together with three heart-melting kids, you’re right. But you won’t care.
Carell, Segel, Brand and the entire cast provide hilarious voice performances. They actually create distinctive voices for the characters rather than just using their names to sell tickets.
And usually when a movie tries to use cute kids, it seems saccharin and cheap. Here, though, the cuteness is just part of their characters, which are all intriguing and endearing. Plus, they’re so cute!
The kids in the audience, however, are going to remember the minions more than anything else. That’s mostly a good thing, because these weird little creatures are like a bunch of mutant Stooges, coming off the bench to provide side-splitting physical humor any time the movie needs a lift.
But parents be warned: make sure your own kids are mature enough to understand that it’s not OK to behave like the minions. It’s not quite as funny when the real young ’uns slap their brothers or sisters around like the cute animated characters.
“Despicable Me” also deserves praise for its use of 3-D. Lo and behold, there’s finally a 2010 movie that’s worth the higher ticket price. I’m not putting it on the same plane, but this is the best use of 3-D since “Avatar.” In fact, the credit sequence manages to show off the 3-D effects while giving us one more hilarious scene with the minions — stick around for it.
The movie isn’t as meaningful or complex as “Ponyo,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” or even “Up.” But it’s one of only a handful of movies in this dreadful year that exceeds our expectations.
When the theater tacks on the 3-D surcharge, it becomes harder to afford taking the whole family to a movie. “Despicable Me” might be the only time this year you don’t regret shelling out the extra money.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.