I’ve been looking forward to Despicable Me for a while; having seen trailers, the 3D animated film out of Universal looked like it had the potential to be a lot of fun. While I was far from unhappy with the final product, what seems increasingly to be a universal truth surfaced once again — all computer animated film fare is measured against the visual and storytelling juggernaut that is Pixar… and they remain the unwavering king of the mountain.
Despicable Me is the story of Gru (Steve Carrell), a past-his-prime villain heavy on unsavory aspirations but lacking in execution. One day Gru learns that every baddie, himself included, have been left eating dust when a mystery evil genius steals one of the Great Pyramids. Not content to be outdone, Gru devises a plan to infiltrate a secret base, swipe their experimental shrink ray, and steal the moon.
Of course, before doing this, he needs a little loan from the evil bank that funds the lifestyles of all major villains. There he is introduced to his future nemesis, Vector (Jason Segel), a geeky but resourceful new kid on the block. Being cantankerous and, well — bad, Gru immediately makes an enemy of Vector.
Vector has Gru’s number at every turn, sabotaging all of his plans for world domination with nerd glee. When Vector robs Gru of his own stolen property and stashes it in his impenetrable suburban fortress (super-villains live side-by-side with average citizens), well — if you’ve seen the trailers you get a good idea of what most of the film seems to be about. Gru gets repeatedly blown up, shark-bitten, and junk-punched attempting infiltration.
The story, however — revolves mostly around the interaction of Gru and three little girls of varying ages and cuteness who sell cookies for the orphanage they reside in. Without giving a lot away unnecessarily, the girls are Gru’s ticket to gaining access to what he wants, and he attempts to bend them to his will. What happens for most of the film is formulaic. Gruadopts the girls, they make his life a mess, he hates them, they hate him — slowly the relationship evolves, Gru realizes they’re not so bad and they him — and the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
There is a danger in telling a story that’s been repeatedly told in one way or another over many years, particularly in this medium, and that’s simply not standing out. The sad truth of the matter is, Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul didn’t do a whole lot to make this film unique. It’s certainly pretty, and the character design is top notch, but the story never elevates itself past something more than just sort of cute. Gruff *insert character* is challenged by *insert adorable character(s)* and finds that *insert heartwarming message*.
Gru is a tame bad guy, plagued with mommy issues, mostly endearing thanks to the excellent voice work of Stevel Carrell. Vector never gets a lot of development, and a huge part of who he is and why he’s that way is sort of ignored for the rest of the film. The girls, played by Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, and Nickelodeon staple Miranda Cosgrove are cute, but mostly forgettable. The youngest, Agnes, gets the most traction out of her cuteness with some really great lines (she looooves Unicorns…and kitties).