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Despicable Me (2010)

Meet Gru.  Gru is a brilliant supervillain bent on world conquest.  Gru has hundreds of minions eager to carry out his every request.  Gru has dozens of nefarious inventions to facilitate his ultimate domination of the world and crush its entire population mercilessly under his thumb.  Gru is about to become a dad to three young orphans, whether he likes it or not.

Despicable Me is a computer-animated 3D comedy from Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment, featuring the voices of Steve “The 40-Year Old-Virgin” Carrell, Jason “How I Met Your Mother” Segel, and Russell “Get Him to the Greek” Brand.  So far it has received generally positive reviews, and with a heartwarming story that doesn’t try too hard, it is easy to see why.

Gru (Carrell) is a middle-aged supervillain who, hearing that another super villain has stolen the Pyramids of Giza, decides to repair his wounded pride by pulling off an even bigger heist: stealing the moon.  However, the loan he requests from the Bank of Evil to fund this caper is denied pending Gru’s acquisition of the shrink ray he needs.  Mr. Perkins, the bank president, tells Gru that he needs to step aside to make room for younger, hipper villains like that charming young man Vector who (incidentally) was behind the theft of the pyramids.

Oh, it’s on

With the assistance of dozens of his gibberish-speaking, pill-shaped minions, Gru steals the shrink ray from a lab… only to have it stolen in turn from him by Vector.  When Gru’s repeated attempts to break into Vector’s lab to steal it back end in hilarious failure, Gru is on the verge of giving up when he sees three little girls from a local orphanage approach with cookies to sell, and are allowed in.  Light bulb…

Gru adopts the three girls from Miss Hattie’s orphanage and has them sell Vector small robots disguised as cookies to help him break into Vector’s lab and acquire the shrink ray.  The plan is a success, but on the way home the girls shangai Gru into taking them to an amusement park, where against his best-laid plans and every effort to ditch them, he has a fantastic time.  It is not long before Gru realizes that the innocent, unconditional love the girls offer him is changing him, and before long he is forced to make a choice: world conquest or his adopted daughters.

Gru’s characterization as a washed-up supervillain is spot-on, and his gradual surrender to the affections of Edith, Margo, and Agnes never feels forced.  While he has many “being an asshole for its own sake” moments in the beginning, he never dips into actual evil, making his eventual redemption feel believable and natural.  There were several moments where I just wanted to give him a hug, particularly during the scene where he is giving his minions (for whom he clearly has a lot of affection) a pep talk regarding the complete lack of funds to pull off this plan and the likelihood that they might have to find work elsewhere.  While Gru is a nominal villain in this piece, you will love to hate his rival Vector and the Dolores-Umbridge-esque Miss Hattie.

The character design and animation was smooth and entertaining, apparently taking a page from Pixar on designing human characters without falling headlong into the uncanny valley, and the minions were hilariously adorable alongside their birdlike boss.  Likewise, the girls were appealing in their collective role as the innocence that Gru has apparently lost and needs to rediscover.  The credits gag of Gru’s minions playing with the 3D effects by trying to reach as far as they can “out of the screen” was likewise entertaining, though the effect may have been spoiled slightly by watching the movie at home on DVD on a non-HD TV.

Even if you are the type that doesn’t often go see animated films, I highly recommend Despicable Me as a worthy follower in the footsteps of such family fare as The Incredibles and Shrek, with elements that will appeal to both children and adults.

Incidentally, Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri has stated that a sequel is in the works.  I for one am looking forward to it.

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