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Not Great, But Not Entirely Despicable
Despicable Me (DVD)
Member Name: IainWear
Despicable Me (DVD)
Advantages: Some amusing slapstick moments
Disadvantages: Not an awful lot here for the adults
Having seen the success that both Dreamworks and Pixar have had with their animated films, it's no surprise that Universal should try to get a piece of that market. It is clear that Universal were determined to take advantage of the knowledge the other companies have, as they've taken the producer from "Ice Age" and the marketing stands in my local cinema when it was there had me mistaking the minions for the aliens from the "Toy Story" franchise.
In "Despicable Me", the despicable one of the title is Gru. He is attempting to be a super-villain, but has been outdone by a new villain on the block who has recently stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza and replaced it with an inflatable. Gru wants to be the top villain, so he hatches a plan to shrink and then steal the moon.
To do this, Gru needs a shrink ray, but his attempts to obtain one are thwarted by Vector, the villain who stole the pyramid. Gru comes up with a plan to steal the shrink ray back, but this means he needs to adopt three orphaned girls who will be able to get into Vector's house. With the girls and Gru's army of minions, he'll be able to be top villain again.
Unfortunately, it's not an entirely successful attempt. The main reason for this is the story, which is highly predictable. When three cute little girls come into Gru's life, Hollywood clichés suggest only one ending and that's exactly what happens. You don't need to be an evil genius to see the effect on Gru these girls are likely to have and the story falls into this trap.
The other issue I had is that the film doesn't really appeal to adults as well as children, something the other studios have managed to achieve by sneaking in a little adult or alternative humour, which is sadly missing here. Admittedly, there is a lot to appeal to the children, with plenty of slapstick courtesy of the minions but apart from a couple of minor visual gags, there is nothing for the parents here, which makes it feel like quite a long ride.
The pacing is a little bit off, with Gru's life story being told in flashback montages, which make the whole film look like a series of interlinked scenes rather than a continuous story. Other parts seem to take too long, meaning that whilst Gru's situation may seem inevitable, it's never fully explained and there are gaping holes that will make adults uncomfortable. Much of the film focuses on the minions and their slapstick behaviour and the girls, which may appeal to younger viewers, but less so to the parents.
The other characters aren't well drawn, either. Gru's mother, whose attitude could explain why Gru turned out as he did, was underused and so this didn't help explore his character. Vector was not set up as a decent foil for Gru, seeming far too immature and geeky to be a proper villain and who seems to treat being a villain as some kind of game. Miss Hattie who leads the orphanage doesn't seem nasty enough for the children to be excited about living with Gru, although the fun they have with the minions works out quite well. Dr Nefario, Gru's second and his equivalent of James Bond's Q is inconsistent, sometimes seeming a little foolish and at other times in control. It makes the whole thing seem rather patchy.
It's not a great film from a technical viewpoint either, with the animation seemingly taking a step backwards in terms of quality from films like "Monsters Inc", where everything was computer generated to be as realistic as possible. Here, the characters are very simply drawn with little in the way of facial features. Admittedly, this does work well for the minions, who are intended to all look alike and are simply shaped. However, in terms of some scenes, especially buildings and backgrounds, it all looks a little childish. This kind of animation may have been acceptable about a decade ago, but with the advancements in animation since then, it looks like a backwards step.
However, the film does achieve in other areas of the animation. The attention to detail in some areas is impressive. More time seems to have been spent in making the interplay of light and shadow and reflection perfect. The reflection of Gru in the car window seems spot on and the cracks in Gru's goggles are nicely done. But it seems that all the effort went in to getting these aspects right and leaving little time for other aspects of the animation to be as well done.
The soundtrack isn't the best, mostly being along predictable themes with the traditional string and brass orchestration familiar to spy films. There are a couple of R 'n' B tracks by Pharrell Williams which add a little variation, but they seem to work better based on older children, particularly if you listen to the lyrics and don't work on a film aimed at viewers as young as "Despicable Me". They're also fairly bland in terms of the R 'n' B genre, so they don't even appeal at that level.
On the plus side, I thought the voice actors did a fairly good job. Admittedly, the main characters weren't quite able to be their usual high energy selves, particularly Steve Carrell as Gru. His accent was at least consistent, but there wasn't a lot of energy there. The same was true for Jason Segel as Vector, who essentially had one tone throughout, that of an over-excited nerd and wasn't required to do more than that. Julie Andrews provided the voice of Gru's mother and was horribly underused and the character didn't need a big name for the time she was on screen.
The voices of the children were very well done and the three of them were portrayed beautifully for the roles they played in each others' lives and in Gru's. I loved little Edith's voice, as her naivety was excellently put across and there are a couple of moments in the funfair with the unicorn that were hilariously done. For me, however, the real revelation was Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario, as I never would have realised it was Brand voicing him, so different was he from his usual self. Usually, I can't stand Russell Brand, but his performance here was spot on for the role, handling the inconsistencies that the script threw at his character with ease.
The appeal of "Despicable Me" is tough to spot. It may appeal to children (and, admittedly, adults) whose level of humour isn't yet sophisticated enough to find endless slapstick gets a little boring when repeated frequently over a 90 minute film. Children who can relate to the little girls in the film may enjoy it as well, but for adults it's just a little dull and there's not a lot to appeal. Although if it keeps your children occupied for 90 minutes, then there's certainly some reward there.
Summary: An animated movie that forgets that parents may be watching with their children