Like Megamind and indeed, that target for a pretty unfair amount of my unjustified hate, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I didn’t go to see Despicable Me because I decided it looked like it was trying too hard to be funny and probably wasn’t worth watching – at least in the cinema. Maybe I’d see it in the plane one day, I thought.
But now there’s a sequel – and my friends want to go and see it. So I thought I’d better see what it was about. And of course, I found it a fair bit better than I expected it to be. Almost inevitably! Those minions that are pitched as something of a cross between the alien dolls in Toy Story and the insane Rabbids from Rayman really saturated the media – then and now, with the sequel – but were a lot less prominent, and therefore a lot less annoying, than I had expected. And the cheesy but adorable story was cheesy and adorable in all the right ways.
Despicable Me is centred on a typical cheesy supervillain called Gru, a cross between Blofeld and the Penguin, with an easy grasp on evil behaviour and a sinister eastern European accent. Despite his successes, Gru is considered yesterday’s news. When a cheeky young upstart villain with a better grip on technology named Vector steals the Pyramids, Gru knows that the only way to upstage him is to finally realise his lifelong ambition – to shrink and then steal the Moon itself. However, when Vector steals the crucial shrink-ray from him just after he steals it from some Japanese stereotypes, Gru has to enlist the help of three adorable little orphans with old ladies’ names to help him out. And adopting those orphans might just change him from a supervillain to a caring father…
Of course, there are heavy doses of cheese and silliness in that story, but it’s upfront about that from the start. The comedy is broad, with plenty of slapstick and even toilet humour to get the kids giggling, and of course the three little girls – the bookish one, the tomboy and the innocent little tot – are fit to make anybody coo. Those minions, too, with their multilingual babble and their childish fixations, are likeable too – voiced by the directors, there’s something very French about the humour they convey, which makes sense since the bulk of Illumination Pictures grew out of the French Mac Guff animation studio and the two directors are based there.
What really makes the film work, though, is Gru himself. He’s so dastardly and then so vulnerable and finally so loyal and loving underneath it all. His physicality makes for hilarious movements and the juxtaposition of a nasty villain with three cute little girls makes for some great comedy. Russell Brand also puts in a very by-the-numbers could-be-anyone performance as a gruff old mad inventor who facilitates most of Gru’s plans and does the job solidly, which was a bit of a relief given his usual need to call attention to himself, and Pharell Williams’ hip-hop-tinged songs fit perfectly.
A film that doesn’t try a whole lot that’s new or different and very much tries to fit in with other animated films around it, it still does what it sets out to do very well, and exceeds expectations by being cute, funny and fairly clever too.