Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: Pixar-Like "Despicable Me" is a Pleasant Surprise

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 5 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Despicable Me (2010)
Running time: 95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA – PG for rude humor and mild action
DIRECTOR: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
WRITERS: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul; from a story by Sergio Pablos
PRODUCERS: John Cohen, Janet Healy, and Christopher Meledandri
EDITOR: Gregory Perler and Pam Ziegenhagen
COMPOSERS: Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams


Starring: (voice) Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher

Despicable Me is a computer-animated film from Illumination Entertainment, an arm of NBC Universal that creates computer-animated (CGI) animated films. Despicable Me is a sci-fi/fantasy comedy about a criminal mastermind who uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns in his evil plot and then, finds himself profoundly changed by his growing love for them.

Once upon a time Gru (Steve Carell) was the world’s number one supervillain, but a younger supervillain, an egotistical nerd named Vector (Jason Segel), has replaced Gru by pulling off the audacious theft of an Egyptian pyramid. Gru believes that he needs to do something big, really big, to be on top again, so he decides to pull of the heist of the century – steal the Moon. As part of his grand scheme, Gru adopts three orphan girls: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), under false pretenses so that he can use them to steal a shrink ray device. Once, Gru gets to know the girls, however, their innocent love begins to change him.

The animation in Despicable Me is beautiful, at least to me. It was not often that I could take my eyes away from this gorgeous looking film. The art direction, set design, and even some of the character designs are similar to the visual style of early Tim Burton films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and the Henry Selick-directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. This dark, but quirky visual design and pop Gothic graphic sensibility, which also recalls Charles Addams macabre cartoons, makes Despicable Me less sci-fi/fantasy and more like a dark fairy tale. The film also has the sensibilities of Looney Tunes cartoons and offers neat slapstick comedy with smartly conceived chase and heist scenes.

The film also offers a lot of cuteness in the form of Gru’s minions, his capsule and pill shaped lab assistants and lackey/employees. The most important elements of cute are the orphan girls. Little Agnes’ cute countenance could melt a planet of icebergs, but the girls aren’t meant just to be cute. The animators make the girls’ faces capable of showing a wide range of emotions that make them more expressive than many live actors. This helps to sell the story’s focus on love and attachment.

But for all the cuteness of the girls and the minions, Despicable Me is about Gru and both the animators and Steve Carell bring the character to life. Between the expressive character animation and Carell’s delicate voice performance, Gru develops as a layered character, one that will perplex and engage the audience. He is despicable as a villain, but not in the sense that he is exceedingly evil and full of hysterical pronouncements about world domination. In many scenes, Carell and the animators tell the story in a way that allows the audience to read how much Gru’s past hurts and disappoints shape his adult optimism and determination. We get to watch Gru grow.

Despicable Me works so well because it is different from standard computer-animated films. Its adorable sweetness, peculiar look, and a quirky turn of the lead character are the heart of this strangely captivating movie. Despicable Me is a thoughtful take on the idea that even a bad guy can find room in his heart for someone else, and though this is a fantasy, the film really sells that idea.

8 of 10

Sunday, January 16, 2011


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