Sunday, July 18, 2010

Despicable Me (2010)

Despicable Me is only as despicable as its PG rating allows it to be, and is instead as enjoyable, loveable and heartwarming as its pee-wee audience wants it to be.  It’s a flick about a cold-hearted man and his bizarre evil minions warmed by three cute little orphans with big needy eyes – how could it ever be anything but sappy family fun?

  Of course it is that, and more.  It’s inspired, energetic and well-influenced, drawing from the likes of The Incredibles (2004) and How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) to craft a surprisingly entertaining and sweet cinematic experience.  It may never feel as glorious as Toy Story 3, but in some ways it is actually better than that heralded Pixar accomplishment.

  In a summer where the standard blockbuster flicks feel old and expired before they even hit the screen, and a faulty but adventurous film like Inception earns bonus praise just for being different, it’s easy to overlook the quality products directed towards the younger audiences.  But quality doesn’t have an age limit.

  A product of upstart animators Illumination Entertainment, Despicable Me heaves with instigated creativity, tinkering with the wide-eyed norms established by Pixar, Dreamworks and co. while branding the cartoon circuit with its own gadgety goodness.  You can see it in the aged metallic vehicles of the elder villain Gru (Steve Carell), accentuated by the clean and green splendor of his younger rival, Vector (Jason Segel).  It’s in Gru’s adorable little yellow minions, who are like the Toy Story aliens stuffed in potato sacks, then outfitted with goggles and peanut-sized brains.  Despicable wears its influences on its sleeve, tattooed in a heart, then drawn over and highlighted, like a tree decorated by a kid on his first Christmas – a beloved symbol, created and appreciated for the first time.

  The energy is contagious.  If the story feels a little too predictable, and the images seem a little too familiar, the talent involved won’t let us dwell on it.  Carell is marvelous as the European-accented uber-villian, lending not only his vocal talents but also his infectious personality.  Whereas Mike Myers or even Tom Hanks seem to merely loan out their voice boxes, Carell embraces his character, embodying Gru as much as Michael on The Office, or the hopelessly tender nerd in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005).  In fact, this is probably his best cinematic role since he hijacked the starlight with those very gigs. 

  In Despicable Me, he’s looking to hijack the moon, and he’s using the three adorable little orphans to steal a key piece to his plan from his annoying little rival.  That the kids in turn steal his heart is a given.  And that he messes up and is forced to make it up to them is, I guess, a necessary evil.  But these easily accessible contrivances can perhaps be forgiven – this is, after all, a kid’s flick.

  Does that mean kids aren’t deserving of better scripts?  Of course not.  A slightly edgier playbook could have elevated Despicable Me to the next level.  But the technique and resilience in the presentation more than make up for this slight weakness.  This family flick (from first time directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud) is friendly, fun and – most importantly – funny.  Funnier, even, than the latest Pixar king of this animation town.

  Updated Summer Blockbuster Smackdown Standings:
1.) Inception
2.) Toy Story 3
3.) Despicable Me
4.) The A-Team
5.) Iron Man 2
6.) Get Him to the Greek
7.) Knight and Day
8.) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
9.) The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
10.) Shrek 4

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