Animated films always seem to fit into two different camps; either they are awful cash cows (‘A Shark’s Tale’, ‘Shrek 3’) or they are true labours of love (‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Shrek’). It has become a rare find to watch an animated children’s film that takes the middle road, but ‘Despicable Me’ is it. Not revolutionary, but not something that has been quickly made to fill a gap in schedules.
‘Despicable Me’, like Pixar’s ‘The Incredibles’, is set in a comic-book like setting where villains exist, but strangely there is no caped crusader or masked vigilante in sight. In fact, being a villain is its own profession, with paid minions and a Bank of Evil to get loans from. Gru, voiced by Steve Carrell, is not the sort of villain that you would send Jack Bauer after; styled like a French cartoon character, his most evil acts seem to be stealing monuments from Vegas or bursting children’s balloons. Saying this, his big plot of the century is to steal the moon and then sell it back for fame and fortune, and to help him with this he has the great inventor, cockney Dr Nefario, expertly voiced by Russell Brand. And of course he also has his army of yellow, worm like minions. These numerous minions are reminiscent of the game Lemmings – they act as very effective comic relief. With all the ‘Looney Tune’ like physical gags as well as cute voice work and costumes, the minions are easily the second best part of the film, with the greatest part being the orphans Margo, Edith and Agnes. These 3 girls provide the heart of the film, as they are all so sweet together with Gru that they create the warmest moments that will melt your heart.
Outside of this Gru/orphans dynamic, the film ends up being pretty run-of-the-mill, which makes it rather dull at times. The supporting cast of Jason Segel and Julie Andrews are very good, but the story and script are just not complex nor mature enough. This may seem harsh given that this is a kids’ film, but many great movies for children have worked around this and managed to entertain both adults and children equally. However, there are a quite a lot of chuckles with some genuinely laugh out loud moments. The 3D was also used exceptionally well; in fact, it might be the best use of 3D I have ever seen (apologies to James Cameron), but even with all this, the whole production feels very middle ground. There is no new way of looking at the genre, the story or the characters. Perhaps if it was released 10 or so years ago it would have seemed slightly more original and impressive, but unfortunately with all the high caliber animation movie-goers see at the moment, being adequate just isn’t good enough. That is not to say audiences should give this film a miss – it is worth seeing – but don’t expect too much from it. You will leave the cinema smiling, but will forget the film as soon as that smile fades.