The story-telling of the movies, more so than the quality of the animation, are what mark Pixar animated movies apart from all the pretenders to the throne. But the opposition are catching on quick, with this year seeing the delightful How to Train Your Dragon from Dreamworks Animation. Not to be outdone Universal are now set to follow by firing a shot straight across Pixar’s bow. Despicable Me is Universal’s first foray into the world of computer generated animation, and they have teamed up with Illumination Entertainment, a company founded by by the former president of 20th Century Fox Animation and the former Co-Head of Animation at DreamWorks. So they got in some talent for this one, but just how did they get on?
Despicable Me tells the story of Gru, a supervillain, who lives in a quiet suburban neighbour with his army of minions and a bevy of mad inventions. When an up-and-coming new villain emerges on the scene and pulls of a daring stunt, Gru has no choice but to embark on a dasterdly plan of his own…to steal the moon! Alas if wishing only made it so…unfortunately Gru needs money, and the Evil Bank are only willing to pony up the dough if he can acquire a shrink ray. This requires breaking into rival villain Vector’s house, but he’s on to Gru. Enter 3 little girls, orphans who by selling cookies gain access to Vectors lair. Witnessing this prompts Gru to adopt the girls, planning to use them for his own nefarious means. However things don’t always go according to plan…
Good quality animated movies need a good voice cast and Despicable Me managed to find one. Steve Carell is almost unrecognisable as Gru, until you recognise him and then it’s almost impossible to not hear it as Steve Carell doing a voice. Most would notice this though and his faux-Russian accent (for which there is no explanation) makes Gru unique. The animation of the character gives plenty of opportunity to poke fun at Gru’s odd shape and beak-like nose. Jason Segal does a fine line with Vector, giving him a Bill Gates-lite, whiny voice that perfectly suits the ambitious but nerdy Vector. The character, and obvious rip on Gates, never amounts to much but none of that is Segal’s fault. Julie Andrews is the stand out voicing Gru’s mom. She is heartless, nagging but with a vicious sense of humour and completely un-Julie Andrews-esque. Think Mary Poppins with a 6 mile mean-streak and you’re close to the money. Small, Jewish but packing a mighty wallop Gru’s mom is not one to be trifled with. The girls manage to walk that thin line between sweet and irritating without ever falling to either side, their presence allowing the movie to find its heart. It’s the ancillary character that make this though. Russell Brand’s Dr. Nefario is hilarious, old and doddery but still able to whip out mad inventions…even if they are not exactly what was asked for. It is he, and Gru’s army of minions, that offers the real comedy moments. And boy are those minions funny. Delightful and charming, and oh so huggable, the minions are worth the admission price on their own. A spin-off cannot be too far away.
The animation isn’t brilliant, I mean it’s not bad, but it’s not Pixar quality. The 3D is redundant except for a number of sequences which utilise correctly but on the whole it’s not worth the extra cost. The animation is there to serve a purpose though and that is to tell the story. It’s a simplistic story, most of which is completely obvious from the start, but despite this it works for its target audience. Pixar movies are all about the story, Despicable Me is not. The story is purely designed to get the movie from A to B and to allow the animators and writers to string a series of hilarious sequences in between. That’s what marks it down from a top level movie, but it doesn’t mark it as a totally inferior one. The laughs are there, the characters are great and there’s no doubt that children and adults alike will leave with huge grins on their faces. And in the end isn’t the entertainment value what it is all about? Not everyone can be Pixar, but slowly but surely the rest are getting there. And for a first timer Universal has done pretty damn good.
Despicable Me lacks that winning sparkle but it is still a marvellously fun adventure. Just go, sit back and laugh. By the way…the minions are awesome.