The most endearing thing about the film, and it’s clear that Universal knows it, are The Minions. Gru’s yellow, gel-cap shaped, gibberish-talking, goofball workers get a lot of mileage out of their slapstick. They’re cute, their scenes are generally really fun, and they’ll definitely have a life on store shelves and later in toy boxes long after the actual story of Despicable Me has been forgotten.
Still, all that said — I feel like I may be being unfair, and the fault rests singularly on Pixar.
Pixar films have set a standard and an expectation that has so colored my demands of computer animated films, that when others vying for their piece of the pie toss their hat into the ring and don’t hit my particular benchmarks, I’m disappointed. I expect a great film that kids will love, laugh at, that doesn’t treat them like they’re imbeciles (I’m looking at you, Barnyard), and still engages me as an adult. The last may be a problem. Pixar does a fantastic job of blending their stories and their visuals — the kids get their laughs, and we get our inside-joke chuckles and pop culture references that the kiddos are oblivious to. I expect a tight story with threads that are sufficiently tied up once the movie credits roll.
That’s my expectation, fair or not — and I simply didn’t get that wink and nod from Despicable Me, and there were story elements that simply bothered me. Before Gru sweeps them up for their adventure, the girls are beholden to Miss Hattie (an unforgivably underutilized Kristen Wiig), the orphanage owner who forces the children living under her roof to sell cookies for personal profit. What happens when they have a bad sale day? They’re put in a box for an undetermined amount of time.
Kids in attendance may completely forget about those details once the girls get their happy ending, but when the film is over — there is no resolution to that situation. Miss Hattie never gets her comeuppance — she’s still probably forcing kids to work and stuffing them in boxes.
I dunno — that bothers me.
Despicable Me is far from a bad movie. The voice cast is impressive, with a lot of big names in comedy playing small parts, and while I wasn’t rolling in the aisle, I did laugh out loud a few times. Kids will get a kick out of it, and again, they’ll absolutely love The Minions. That said, will I have indelible and warm memories of Despicable Me years from now like I do Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles, Toy Story, or WALL-E? Probably not.
Still, I’d take the kids, put on the 3D glasses, and have some fun for ninety or so minutes. During the press junket, Jason Segel said something that I think makes sense in the context of this particular movie. It’s great for families. As a parent, when the film is over and you’re walking out of the theater with your laughing children, you’ve probably had fun because they had fun. That’s good enough. If you’re an adult going as fan of CGI animated films of the Pixar variety however, you’ll be left wanting.
The Upside: The Minions are good times, and Steve Carrell does a fine job in creating a unique voice for Gru that gives him depth.
The Downside: Cute but forgettable, the bar Pixar has set is monumentally high.
On The Side: I didn’t even realize Russel Brand had a fairly significant role in the film until the credits rolled. Fella is a good voice actor.