Directed by: Pierre Coffin
Produced by: John Cohen
Written by: Ken Daurio
Story by: Sergio Pablos
Starring: Steve Carell
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Editing by: Gregory Perler
Studio: Illumination Entertainment
Universal Animation Studios
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date(s): July 9, 2010 (US)
October 15, 2010 (UK)
Running time: 95 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $69 million
Gross revenue (as of publication): $479, 077, 105
Followed by: Despicable Me 2 (in development)
Note: I chose this poster because the other one is a dead giveaway plot-wise.
What I have here now is Despicable Me, a new animated film from Universal Pictures. The film has been an extraordinary success in box-office terms, earning so far $479, 077, 105 off of a $69 million budget, and has slunk its way into the top 10 highest-grossing films of 2010. This stands as unique, because bar Inception, it is the only film in this list that is an original film, the rest based on existing sources, as remakes, adaptations or sequels to ongoing franchises.
Despicable Me is a story about supervillain Gru, voiced by Steve Carell with a strange but amusing accent, who is deposed as number one supervillain by up-and-comer Vector, voiced by Jason Segel. This means that funding from the Bank Of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers) President Mr. Perkins, voiced by Will Arnett, is removed unless Gru can manage to produce a new weapon before Vector. Gru, being the villain that he is, adopts three young orphans from Miss Hattie, voiced by Kristen Wiig, in order to use them as pawns in his plan to steal the weapon from Vector, along with the help of Russell Brand's Dr. Nefario and his many "minions."
We have a terrific voice cast on offer. Carell does a good vocal performance with what could have been incredibly annoying, doing for the funny accented animated character what Mike Myers did for Shrek. In their respective supporting roles, Will Arnett and Kristen Wiig both amuse and terrify as villains who are legitimate and believable. As evil overlord of the orphanage, Wiig's Miss Hattie is a horrible individual, whom the normally glowing Wiig, in a real move from her role in MacGruber, injects Hattie with suitable malice. Arnett's Mr. Perkins is a very funny character that because of the skill of the animation and Arnett's vocal performance carries a weighty presence that begs the question as to who the real villain of the piece is.
Gags wise, Despicable Me has got a number of very funny moments. The backstory of Gru and his relationship with his mother, played by Julie Andrews, could have been boring, but instead is given a tragicomic element to its thanks to the writers. Also, the "minions" who litter the movie are a great addition to the movie whose sections in the film often provide laughs, the "family" of minions going shopping for a replacement toy for one of the orphans being an example of note. With a tremendous opening involving the Great Pyramid Of Giza and scenes of dark and edgy comedy involving the orphanage (Box Of Shame) and the Bank Of Evil, Despicable Me in its opening half-hour sets itself up to be something unique in the world of animated copycats.
Finally, the animation is wonderful. From a technical standpoint, it is solid and everything moves perfectly with a real flow, lacking any rough edges. Also, from an artistic standpoint, I like the fact that the film-makers/animators have gone for a different style of computer animation, as opposed to the obvious option taken by emulators of the Toy Story and Shrek series. Their work stands out most in the sections involving the minions, who I do think are a work of genius.
However, despite promise and hilarity at the beginning act of the film, Despicable Me rather disappointingly teeters off into the territory of clichés and predictability. The fact that there is so much proof that it could be a better film as it is bursting with ideas waiting to explored in detail, makes it all the more heartbreaking. Yes, I said heartbreaking. It's because I genuinely want to love this film for what it is, but it is full holes and flaws that prevent me from doing so.
My problems with the film do not emerge from the tonal shift in the film, or the shift in the character of Gru (read the plot synopsis again and join the dots). They emerge from the fact that it is at surface level a really inconsistent film. Comparisons to Shrek can be found, not that this is a problem, but whereas Shrek (at least the first two) balance well the audience appeal spectrum of jokes for kids/jokes for adults, Despicable Me does not. The jokes that the adults will get are too far out for kids to get and the jokes for kids are enough to bring out the adults into sighs and grumbles. Also, it becomes obvious who what jokes are meant for, for whole scenes are dedicated to action for the audience member it has been decided it will be directed towards.
While perhaps a tough balancing act, numerous movies such as the Shrek series, the films of Hayao Miyazaki and the works of Pixar have proved that it is possible to make animated films which stop these elements from teetering too much to one side. As a result, Despicable Me comes across as a film that is confused with its own identity as to what kind of film it is meant to be. There is no excuse as to why it cannot strive to that higher level of animation of the above examples.
Despite possessing some really great gags, the film is predictable to the point of absurdity. It is like someone has made a poorly structured brick wall and thought that no one would notice and they could get away with filling every hole with cement: this does not change the fact that the platform upon which the films humour is based is weak. Once you think you have the film figured out (not that it's meant to be Inception), chances are you probably have. Despite getting glossed up with strong features, one cannot help but notice that in most aspects, the film is as murder-by-numbers as any of the films of this type that I criticise every year.
The film's saving grace ultimately is that regardless of flaws, visibly as they are irritating, Despicable Me is brimming with charm. Gru's tonal shift, hardly a spoiler, manages to bring a smile to my face, and if it were not for my immense frustration, I doubtless would have been in tears. I felt them coming, especially in a number of very touching, tender scenes with Gru and the orphans, but they simply couldn't or wouldn't. I do genuinely feel heartbroken because there is so much good about the film that the other more negative aspects taint my memory of this. As it stands, Despicable Me is something that while good, could have been something so much more, and like me, feels unfulfilled.
Updates in film news show that Despicable Me 2 is in development. Now, I'm not overly against this, I just don't see how this could work, especially considering the shift in the characters and the tone that been taken on by the end of the movie. I hope there is genuine love motivating this decision and not The Almighty Dollar. On a final note, could someone tell me why every single mainstream animated film must have a dance sequence?
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.7/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Saddened (genuinely)