Review: Despicable Me

Super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his host of strangely endearing, merchandise-inspiring minions.

I keep saying to myself that I won’t write a full 800-word review for some of these films, and then I go and do it anyway. This time I really don’t think I’ll have that much to say, but we’ll see. I have a tendency for gettin’ all flowery with my language when I have no idea what to talk about.

Despicable Me is cute, mindless family entertainment. It’s simplistic, sentimental story is predictable and hardly as resonant as the reflection of love and loss found in Toy Story 3. Still, Universal Studios takes a page out of Pixar’s playbook and includes a fair amount of adult-oriented humor, making it a little easier to sit through the inevitable jokes about toilets and farts.

The set-up is recognizable, even if the villain-as-protagonist device isn’t a completely unoriginal one (congrats, Dreamworks Animation, on playing being late to the party once again with your upcoming Will Ferrell showpiece, MegaMind). Gru (Steve Carell) is a wannabe super-villain with a plan to steal the moon. However, he finds himself thwarted by a young, up-and-coming villain named Vector (Jason Segel). Through a series of events that don’t matter enough to waste my time typing them up, Gru ends up as the foster father for a trio of young orphaned girls who may be able to play a key role in Gru’s scheme. Gosh, do you think Gru’s cold heart might eventually be thawed by the energy and affection of these lonely youngsters?

The film’s lazy story is offset by the admirable aplomb with which the voice actors take on their roles. Jason Segel makes the most out of a woefully underwritten character, while Russell Brand (the British comedian seen as Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek) is amusing as Dr. Nefario, Gru’s partner in crime. Julie Andrews, Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) and Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) seem to have fun in limited roles. But Steve Carell is the true standout, somehow letting a sympathetic character emerge from behind that ridiculous accent (which Carell himself refers to as “a cross between Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi).

But, the most memorable and funniest moments still belong to those strange little yellow creatures, Gru’s host of minions. The appeal behind the minions’ incomprehensible babbling and bizarre mix of child- and adult-like behavior is inexplicable. They’re just funny. I don’t know how a deeper analysis is possible, or even necessary.

Still, some clever marketing team clearly caught on to the attraction behind these walking, living aspirin tablets. The minions have been plastered all over Despicable Me’s extensive advertising campaign, and the odd little things delivered, to the tune of over $60 million in the film’s opening weekend. Considering modest projections had the film somewhere in the $20-25 million range, can we officially declare that all the panic over lackluster grosses in the early summer  was unnecessary? People aren’t unwilling to give up their money to go see movies. They’re just less willing to give up their money to go see crap movies. Simple solution: make fewer crap movies! Amazing!

Now in theaters.

Verdict: 2 1/2 out of 4 stars

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