1 hour, 35 minutes
If there's one complaint that can be leveled at Hollywood that applies universally, it's that creativity and uniqueness are not prized commodities. Studios would much rather produce a sequel, remake, or adaptation, banking on a built-in audience of fans of the original. It doesn't matter that people say they want originality -- as long as they keep paying for the same-old, same-old, that's what they're going to get. That's what makes the success, both artistic and financial, of this weekend's animated "Despicable Me," so refreshing. This lively and amusing family flick isn't cut from the same cloth as every other kiddie film, nor is it inappropriately ironic, dark, twisted, or raunchy. It's fun and tells a fairly standard story from a new perspective.
Steve Carrell, through a thick Hungarian drawl, provides the voice of Gru, a super-villain of the first order. He's mean, inconsiderate, and very inhospitable, just as any self-respecting villain should be. But, just as he's feeling on top of the world, someone goes and steals his thunder -- by actually stealing the Great Pyramid at Giza and replacing it with a blow-up facsimile. Suddenly, Gru is second-fiddle and his feelings of inadequacy are only exacerbated by his inability to get a loan from the Bank of Evil to finance his own dastardly scheme. Gru wants to steal the moon, but to do so he needs a shrink ray, an item he'll also need to steal from his arch-enemy and fellow super-villain, Vector. Further complicating his plans are three little girls from a local orphanage who plan to steal something from Gru as well -- his heart (awwww).
"Despicable Me" puts a fresh spin on the old awkward, reluctant dad with heart of gold tale and, thanks in part to Carrell's spot on delivery, delivers an entertaining and enjoyable time at the movies. Is it on par with "Toy Story 3?" No, but that's almost an unfair bar to set. This film won't change your worldview, but it also won't make you wonder if maybe you should have left your 3-year-old at home, either. A few mild fart jokes aside, "Despicable" manages to maintain a kid-friendly tone without totally losing the adults. You may find your attention wandering a bit, but a blissfully short run-time means the film doesn't have time to wear out its welcome.
Carrell and the cute little girls aside, the real stars of the film are the "minions." Three-foot tall, twinkie-shaped, and wearing the sort of thick goggles you might find on a mad scientist at the crescendo of some hideous experiment, the minions are kind of a cross between the Munchkins and the Oompa Loompas of Willy Wonka fame. They not only do Gru's bidding, but provide a continual background of pratfalls and sight gags.
One of their best scenes finds three of the horde at a local toy store, sent to acquire a unicorn doll for the youngest of the orphans. They dress in almost 50s costumes (hat and mustache, sun dress, and baby diaper) to create the vision of a perfect little family, goggled and yellow though they are. The sweetest part of all, though, is watching Gru's relationship with the minions. Far from treating them like disposable automatons, which is what they resemble, Gru seems to know them all individually, addressing them by name, asking after their families, and giving out hugs and high-fives with aplomb. Gru is a rock star to them and he loves them right back.
Naturally, Gru is actually a good guy. This is a kid's movie, after all. He's not a hero in the traditional sense -- there are plenty of super-villains, but no good guy counterparts, apparently -- but someone with a good heart underneath that despicable exterior. In fact, for a movie about a man who wants to steal the very moon out of the sky, "Despicable Me" is not at all dark or even slightly scary. There are a few scenes of a shark that might make a 3-year-old jump, but then again maybe not.
Mostly what the movie is, is silly fun, and well done, at that. It won't win any Oscars, especially not this year, but I'm glad I saw it, and look forward to the inevitable sequel.
Unfortunately, with a sequel, "Despicable Me" will give up, to some extent, it's claim on originality, but I suppose there's nothing to be done. Hollywood was long ago robbed of its ability to take a chance on something truly creative, so I guess these brief glimpses are all we can hope for.
"Despicable Me" is rated PG for mild rude humor and mild scares.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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