Though Pixar has the market cornered on high-quality computer animated feature films, every now and then a nice surprise comes along that comes close to the magic of the people behind Toy Story. Films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and How to Train Your Dragon have recently impressed the hell out of me, and while Despicable Me doesn’t quite live up to those standards, Universal and Illumination Entertainment have delivered a charming family feature with heart, hilarity and a throwback to some classic cartoons from decades past. Hit the jump for my take on this entertaining animated feature.
Our story follows a supervillain named Gru (voice by Steve Carell) who takes joy in creating chaos and trouble for others. Whether it’s making a balloon animal for a boy only to pop it immediately after giving it to him or stealing the Statue of Liberty (from Las Vegas), Gru is one of the best. But when Vector (Jason Segel) shows up and steals an Egyptian pyramid, a battle begins for super villain supremacy with Gru plotting with his helpful evil sidekick Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) to steal the moon by way of a shrink ray attached to a rocket. Of course, Vector steals the shrink ray from Gru and he is forced to concoct a plan to get it back that involves uses three sweet orphan girls (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Eslie Fisher) to pose as girl scouts and penetrate his fortress. But in his adoption of the girls to take part in his schemes, Gru just might come to have a soft heart to care and love the adorable trio.
The comedy from the film comes from two very different arenas. The first feels like a throwback to the old Looney Tunes rivals of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd or more accurately Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Gru uses every gadget and tool at his disposal to try and break into Vector’s fortress, but he is thwarted at every turn. Explosions and slapstick smashes and bashes really feel like classic cartoon battles as Vector’s fortress seems to be impenetrable. On the other hand, Gru’s interaction with the three adopted girls delivers some cute humor as only a super villain interacting with young children can deliver.
In addition, the voicework is just right on the money with as each actor’s voice just perfectly fits the character design. And with this Blu-Ray transfer of the film, and as with most animated fare in high-definition, the picture looks absolutely beautiful with all the bright colors and crisp animation. Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride and Julie Andrews are even along for the ride. But the biggest stars of the film come from the hundreds of little minions who took audiences by storm, and deliver some hearty laughs throughout the film.
But aside form the hilarity and quality work in animation and voice talent, it’s the heart of the movie that helps this shake a stick at some of the greater animated fare. The way these three cute girls soften Gru’s heart really make for a touching story that’s fit for the whole family. Honestly, it’s hard to find films like this that have childish humor that still delivers to adults, and yet have a story that can pull at your heartstrings and doesn’t just provide a background for jokes and pretty animation. Despicable Me really is a fine, though not perfect, animated feature that has something for everyone.
Director’s Commentary: Filmmakers Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin provide the standard commentary over the film.
Gru-Control: A take-off of the U-Control feature, this extra pulls back from the film itself to watch Gru and his minions watch and talk about parts of the movie. It’s mildly entertaining.
Mini-Movies: Three animated shorts are included (totaling about 12 minutes altogether) called Orientation Day, Home Makeover and Banana, and they all feature those adorable little minions, and one even has the three little girls involved.
The Voices of Despicable Me: A standard behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews with the actors and filmmakers complete with footage from the voice recording sessions.
Despicable Beats: This short featurette offers a very quick glimpse in the studio with record producer and recording artist Pharrell Williams who crafted songs and music specifically for the film.
Global Effort: A short featurette looking at all the international involvement that went into the production of the film.
Super Silly Fun Land and Gru’s Rocket Builder: These two interactive games are really for the kids, and they’re not all that great considering you have to play them with your Blu-Ray player’s remote control.
Miss Hattie’s Top Secret Cookie Recipes: Basically, there’s some recipes for cookies, the ones that the little girls sell to Vector, and this just slaps the text up on the screen.
THE FINAL WORD: Despicable Me is charming, cute and funny, but it’s not quite up to par with Pixar’s quality. However, a great voice cast, unique character design, and great animation deliver a fun film for the whole family that looks great on Blu-Ray and has some decent supplemental features, and allows you to own the film on DVD and mobile devices. This is a title great to have around for the kids to watch over and over again.