Everyone knows that the villains are usually the most interesting characters in any movie. So the makers of Despicable Me were wise to cut to the chase and make the megalomaniacal Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) the central character in this animated film.
The world of Despicable Me is reminiscent of The Incredibles, where superheroes and supervillains participate in everyday life, raising their kids and keeping up their suburban homes just like ordinary mortals. Gru drives his ecological nightmare of a vehicle to get a cup of coffee, vanquishes the people ahead of him in line, and returns home with his latte to his creepy black-hued house in a row of identical houses.
The supervillains in this community are all trying to best one another. Snotty new kid on the block Vector (Jason Segel) kicks things off in spectacular style by seizing the Great Pyramid of Giza and replacing it with an inflatable replica. Gru has some monuments to his name, but the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty in his possession were stolen from Vegas rather than their natural habitats. So he has now set his sights on lassoing the moon, for which he will first have to steal a shrink-ray gun in order to downsize it to carry-on size.
Part of his plan involves adopting three orphaned sisters: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). Gru discovers his sensitive side when they ask him to accompany them to ballet lessons and read bedtime stories. And flashbacks reveal him to be a villain with justifiable mommy issues (as the voice of Gru's belittling mother, Julie Andrews plays deliciously against type).
"Assemble the Minions," Gru is wont to say when cooking up a new plot, and those Minions are likely to become the real stars of this movie. Yellow, caplet-shaped, bespectacled beings swarm in excited enthusiasm, gurgling in some sort of fractionally understandable language that seems fitting, given the indeterminate Russian-Hungarian goulash of Gru's accent.
There is also Gru's hard-of-hearing inventor (Russell Brand), who is like Q to Gru's Bond, and creates a fart gun when a dart gun is requested. As for Carell, his vocal delivery is entertaining. Beneath the character's amusing accent we can hear intimations of both an arch-criminal and a petulant child.
The film's 3-D effects are neither the dazzling, pop-out variety nor the belated post-production conversion kind (all too common in these heady days of 3-D fever). Despicable Me was produced by Chris Meledandri, who had executive producer credits on Horton Hears a Who! and the first two Ice Age movies, and the CGI work was done by French special effects house Mac Guff Ligne.
Pixar remains the gold standard for animated family films, but the Spy vs. Spy-style antics of Despicable Me and those lovable Minions probably guarantee that Despicable Me will produce some progeny.