With the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segal, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Will Arnett. Directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. Rated PG for rude humor and mild action. 95 minutes.
Okay. You’ve seen “Toy Story 3.” Your kids have seen “Toy Story 3,” probably more than once. Now what? Often parents break down and take in anything out there that seems kid-friendly, which explains why the horrible “The Last Airbender” was the number two movie in the country last week. Fortunately, help is on the way in the unlikely form of the arch-villain Gru, the unlikely star of DESPICABLE ME.
The animated Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is the man who stole the Times Square Jumbotron and is now planning his greatest theft yet. With the help of Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and Gru’s countless minions he’s going to steal the moon. His problem is that the local evil bank won’t give him a loan, and is instead backing Gru’s arch-rival Vector (Jason Segal). After a series of gags that seem to have been inspired by the old “Spy vs. Spy” comic in MAD Magazine, Gru comes up with the perfect plan – he’s going to adopt three adorable orphans so that they can deliver robotic cookies to Vector and steal back the shrinking ray that Gru stole from someone else in the first place.
Sound silly? It is. It’s absolutely giddy with silliness, and that’s what makes it so much fun for kids and adults. There’s very little in the way of topical humor, although check the sign over the doorway of the evil bank president. The film focuses first on sight gags and slapstick, and then, amazingly, on character-driven comedy. The turning point may be Gru reading a bedtime story to the girls that they love and he thinks is one of the stupidest things he’s ever seen. Any parent who’s ever had to pick up a board book will laugh in recognition.
While the inevitable softening of Gru, who resembles Uncle Fester in the old Charles Addams cartoons, means that this story isn’t going to easily lend itself to sequels, they’ve got an inspired spinoff possibility in Gru’s minions. They’re little yellow figures with one or two goggled eyes. These creatures ought to be interchangeable, but they’re given individual personalties that provide Gru with an endless supply of comic sidekicks. Look for “minion” toys to be this year’s fad item. Can an animated holiday TV special be far off?
Although the film is American, the animation is French. While it’s fresh and colorful, it has a look and feel that is indefinably different. It’s not a house style that we’re gotten used to and which, truth be told, even some Pixar films slip into. Nonetheless, don’t waste your money paying extra for 3D. Although not as awful as “The Last Airbender” (in which the Paramount logo was the film’s best effect), the gimmickry simply isn’t necessary; one can only hope it will go the same way as the ’80s fad of “colorizing” old black-and-white movies.
With a bright look and a fresh script, “Despicable Me” is a welcome surprise in what’s been a generally dismal summer at the movies. Go see it (in 2D) and have a great time.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.