Review by Lisa Giles-Keddie
NOT another 3D animation, we hear you cry? Well, it’s not Pixar for one, which instantly (some might say, quite fairly) has most doubting how good it will be, after the likes of Toy Story 3D and Up set the bar way up high.
But what’s interesting about this not being a Pixar product is the knowledge that there is some healthy competition cultivating out there that, in this case, justifies a damn good write-up.
Despicable Me is the first film from Illumination Entertainment, a new unit set up by Universal Films to focus on family films, and as debuts go, this is a delightfully entertaining one with some good 3D elements to it – just check out the fairground ride scene, for instance.
Cynically, it does strike you as yet another indulgence and rush to enter into the 3D realm, but if this outfit had not jumped on the bandwagon, it may not have made quite an entrance at the box office, or had as a fair chance of competing with Pixar.
Despicable Me starts off on a good note with all the right ingredients (cute characters, dastardly villains, unlikely heroes and some cool gadgets), plus it’s packed with some brilliant adult/parental observations – especially those moments when our little ones hand us a questionable piece of kids’ literature to read at bedtime that has you scratching your head as to the futility of it all, as you wonder just what the author was smoking at the time?
This film also harks back to – some might say plagiarises – some popular kids classics, like The Addams Family and Annie.
Its central character Gru bears an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Fester, complete with his Munster-styled house and gadgets, as well as a balding Daddy Warbucks in Annie.
The three little girls that Gru adopts are exactly like the bunch of feisty and self-sufficient Annie orphans, full of imagination but lacking any love or encouragement.
Heck, the plot even has it’s own Miss Hannigan in the buxom form of Miss Hattie! But what this story does is bring these elements that charmed us the first time around bang up to date with a dollop of humour and calamities that combined with the 3D, engages all, while sparking feelings of nostalgia for the rest of us.
Despicable Me also boasts a fantastic voice cast, too, including Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews and Kristen Wiig.
The story follows criminal mastermind Gru (Carrell) and his babbling little yellow helpers, the loopy Minions, who are losing face in villainous circles. Hence, they plan the ultimate heist: to steal the moon.
As all grand plans fray at the seams, so does this one with the arrival of a shiny new villain on the scene called Vector (Segel), who seems to have better gadgets and tonnes more money than Gru could hope for – the reasons for which are apparent, and adults will gleefully love the Lehman Brothers collapse references in the story.
Gru needs only one gadget to carry out the task, but young Vector is holding it to ransom in his pad. As a result of Vector’s sweet tooth for cookies, peddled by three cute, but highly astute orphan girls, Gru decides to take them in and use them for his own wicked means.
And you’ve guessed it: Gru begrudgingly grows to love them.
Like all family-based offerings, Despicable Me is no different in firing out one moral after another through the good deeds of its characters and their actions, but not to such nauseating effect that it detracts from your enjoyment.
Without sounding sickly, Gru gets what he is lacking from the girls, and vice versa, and both get a family along the way on a whacky journey that will capture any stone-cold heart.
It’s predictable but touching stuff, all wrapped up in colourfully imaginative sequences. Oh, and as well as the Minions being set for a Christmas shelf near you, listen out for the words ‘light bulb’ in weeks to come, too, as we guarantee both young and old will be saying it, even in company brainstorms.
Despicable Me is a solid and exciting entry into contemporary 3D animation with some unforgettable and larger-than-life characters, set in a relatively average plot with ideas swiped from many a story before.
What it lacks in inventiveness, it certainly makes up for in spirit and enthusiasm, and is certainly good, all-round family entertainment that more importantly stands its ground against the might of Pixar.
Running time: 95mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 21, 2011