Film Review: Despicable Me

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Three Little Kittens

(Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, USA, 2010, 95 mins)

This is the first CGI film from Universal Pictures and Illusion Entertainment, and some members of the diverse audience, particularly parents all too familiar with the DreamWorks sequence of the boy fishing on a crescent moon, may be finding themselves a little weary of the numerous animations we’ve had thrown at our screens this year. Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After are two that come to mind, although arguably Despicable Me has deviated from this etiquette of talking animals and objects, and instead Chris Renaud has focused on the impact of human emotion, which compared to his work on Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009), he and Coffin have enabled a stronger connection between the film and its older viewers.

The voice artistry of Gru, played by Steve Carell is imposing despite a compelling Russian accent, which at times can be a little confusing not only to the children in the audience. The physical movements of Gru, the way he emphasises his words with his hands and expresses surprise on his face is familiar to that of Carell’s character Andy Stitzer in The 40 Year Old Virgin, making his humour recognised by those who admire him. From the start the audience are acquainted with Gru’s inappropriate behaviour, as he lovingly blows up a balloon in the shape of a dog for an upset boy, and proceeds to burst it with a pin. Who would expect any less? After all, Gru has got some catching up to do to number one super villain Vector, geeky and intelligent, voiced by How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel. To do this Gru intends to steal the moon; a “one up” on Vector’s monstrous but successful act of taking one of the Egyptian pyramids, by adopting and using three very delightful girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher).

This is no protagonist versus antagonist narrative, this is evil versus annoying. The character of Vector may have equipped more weaponry than Gru, but his smugness and unpredictable excitement is like that of a child, which is probably why the children found him so entertaining. His status compared to Gru is expressed through the interior of his house, his modernised pad has a shark swimming under the lounge floor and he has a button for just about everything. The film is vibrant, bursting with colour, and Gru’s house may be the dullest, most Gothic, in the neighbourhood regardless of his alligator sofa, but the three young girls bring life and emotion.  In one sentimental scene Gru’s family tree is shown to us, with the addition of some very imaginative drawings of the girls, diminishing those feelings of betrayal, misery and revenge that are every villain’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, Despicable Me is not all smiley faces and rainbows, as the audience watch Gru visit what appears to be a normal bank and in fact uses eye recognition technology to enter the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers).

This reference highlights that there is adult humour, also emphasised by Gru’s witty one liners and his small yellow minions, who also become part of the girls’ lives, such as joining in with a tea party and a sequence during the end credits as they test the boundaries of 3D cinema. Dr Nefario (Russell Brand), who doesn’t hold the sophistication and slickness of Q from the James Bond films, but has elderly enthusiasm that warms your hearts, and Gru’s mother (Julie Andrews) who takes on an ignorant approach when it comes to Gru’s work, both add moral strength to the plot. The tense relationship between mother and son is shown in a number of flashbacks, as a little long nosed Gru tells his mother he “wants to be the first person to walk on the moon”.

On the other hand, the relationship between Gru and his girls’ progresses as they visit a fun fair together. Agnes’ performance is not the only thing that stands out here – the 3D experience is definitely worth crediting. The sequence where they ride on one of the rollercoasters was spectacular, and felt as though the audience should have been on a simulator alongside it, however this is only one of the memorable scenes in 3D, and I can’t help but feel we have been spoilt by Pixar and DreamWork’s animation as of late. Elsie Fisher really stands out as adorable Agnes in this scene; Fisher has had a lack of experience in the film industry, but she characterises Agnes as adventurous and loveable, a personality trait that is often admired in young children. Singing herself to sleep about unicorns, asking for “bedtime kisses” and stories, and her joy when Gru wins her a unicorn toy, exclaiming “It’s so fluffy!” are three fantastic examples of her heart-warming ability to capture the audience’s affection.  It is obvious as soon as the girls enter Gru’s life that they are melting his cold heart, and it won’t be long before they melt yours too in this family comedy.

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