Friday, July 9, 2010

"Is This Considered Annoying?" Danny's DESPICABLE ME Review!


- Despicable Me is one of those movies that you can't help but want to like. Because, from moment one of this film, it's clear that, if nothing else, this one is ... different. It has a unique look, a unique sensibility. It has a European flair both visually and tonally. Maybe most jarringly, it's a CGI animated film that's not from Pixar or Dreamworks. All of those factors make Despicable Me instantly stand out from the pack. The only problem is that, well, the pack has been pretty darn great lately. Dreamworks recently hit it out of the park with their best animated movie yet - How To Train Your Dragon. And Pixar's Toy Story 3 - a universally loved animated achievement - is still fresh in moviegoer's minds. So many are going to be wondering how Despicable Me stacks up. The answer is that Despicable Me is a lot of fun - it's wonderfully animated and often imaginative and funny. But, it's not quite in the same league as Pixar's best when it comes to storytelling and world building, and so it ultimately feels much lighter and less meaty than the typical, multilayered Pixar film.

One thing I'll say about Despicable Me is that it knows its target audience. To be honest, people like me have probably been spoiled by movies like Wall-E and Toy Story 3 that work as well if not better for adults as they do for kids. Despicable Me is unabashadly a kid's movie though. It has the kind of cute humor and zany sight gags that will make little kids laugh and cheer in delight, while leaving older viewers grinning, perhaps, but not quite bowled over. There isn't a lot of subtext to Despicable Me - the story is told in a straightforward manner, and there's never any doubt that the "villainous" Gru will quickly realize his inner heart of gold. The three sisters who he comes to adopt and yes, eventually love, are just painfully cute, and the movie is never above using their cuteness for all manner of easy laughs and even easier aww-shucks moments. Again - all moments that will play will with the kindergarten set, but not so much with their parents. And hey, maybe that's a good thing - I'm sure lots of parents of young kids were somewhat shocked by, say, Toy Story 3's dark themes. But then again, Pixar never explicitly sets out to make kids movies. Despicable Me though, it aims its humor and its storytelling directly at the tykes in the audience.

Still ... I do think there's a lot more that could have been done with the film's fun premise. There's not much world-building in the movie, and it feels like something of a missed-oppurtunity. You can't help but compare it to something like The Incredibles, that so fully fleshed-out its world of superheroes and villains. Despicable Me comes with a premise - a down-on-his-luck supervillain, that seems to beg for a crazy world to be built around its characters. But we only get hints of that. The Bank of Evil that Gru goes to for loans is one of the movie's funniest ideas, for example, and Will Arnett hams it up to great effect as the bank's gruff man-in-charge. But there aren't many other instances where we actually get a feel for what the world of the movie is like. Are supervillains commonplace? Are there super-heroes? Is there some sort of league of villains or do they all work alone? Are any of them *really* evil, or are they all glorified pranksters like Gru? The movie never really has as much fun as it should with the concept. It doesn't really play off any tropes from other superhero fiction or James Bond spy genre stuff or anything like that. Gru looks and talks sort of like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, but there's no equivalent of an Austin Powers for him to face off with. Truth be told, there isn't much plot to the movie at all.

Instead, 80% of the movie is focused on the budding relationship between Gru and the three girls he hastily adopts in order to use them as part of his latest evil plan. Gru, engaged in a rivalry with an up-and-coming villain named Vector, needs to steal back his shrink ray - currently in the possession of the geeky Vector - so that he can carry out his long-gestating plan of "stealing" the moon. However, not a whole lot of attention is given to Gru's not-so-sinister attention grab. Like I said, it's all about Gru's slow turn from prickly villain to big-hearted adoptive father of three, which proceeds in a manner that will be predictable to anyone who's ever watched an episode of Full House.

But, when Despicable Me picks up the pace and lets its visuals shine, it really comes alive. The film's few action scenes are surprisingly great, and the overall aesthetic of the movie is truly eye-popping. The film's most fun sequences often involve the Minions - Gru's horde of Oompa Loompa-esque henchmen who are bright yellow, talk in their own crazy language, and have voices that sound like the aliens from Toy Story. The Minions have all kinds of cool little visual gags throughout the movie, and are very entertaining. They're surprisingly mysterious though. What the heck are they? Aliens? Robots? Clones? Not even a single line of explanation is given. Maybe in Part 2? Again though, I loved the film's visual style, and the animation is often breathtaking. There's that distinctly European flair to the film, and I liked the bold, colorful look of the characters and settings.

The voicework is also really well done, and Steve Carell is very good in the lead role as Gru. It's sort of insane how many top talents are in this movie (many of them in surprisingly minor roles, too), but everyone does a good job, from Julie Andrews as Gru's disapproving mother to Jason Segal as his rival Vector.

Despicable Me is enjoyable and visually pretty remarkable, but I couldn't help but feel that it seemed a little flimsy when all was said and done. a little short on excitement, plot, and the sense that this world was fully-formed and thought-out. I wanted a little more depth, a little more detail. I think this one will satisfy the entertainment appetites of kids, but will leave anyone over the age of 10 hungry for a more substantial animated meal.

My Grade: B

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