"I'm havin' a bad, bad day
If you take it personal that's okay
Watch, this is so fun to see
Huh, despicable me"Despicable Me (2010) by Pharrell
Wow, even the title theme song is shilling this movie!
I'll kick this review off with the most important message upfront: Go see Despicable Me in 3D or not at all, because this is the first 3D movie I've ever seen which made me want to reach out at the screen just to make sure things weren't actually protruding out of the picture at me. There's even a roller coaster sequence in it which evokes those theme park Motion Master rides and it made my insides lurch in synchrony as the coaster car sped up, down and then upside down.
I am sick and tired of CGI movies which are too afraid to employ the third dimension further than adding a barely-there, smidgen of depth - and Pixar is the biggest offender in this respect, as much as I adore their body of work. I want stuff to pop! I want them to project waaay out of the screen as much as they do waaay into it. I want exaggerated perspectives, dizzying heights and spaces which make me think I could step right in. Look into Gru's neo-gothic suburban home. Check out his subterranean lair in the basement where he addresses his legion of yellow minions. They feel cavernous. They feel fucking real.
But is the 3D in Despicable Me gimmicky? Arguably yes and no. Yes, but in a very self-aware sort of way. No, because this movie transcends mere gimmicks.
No spoilers, readers, so unclench thy butts.
The Villain Protagonist Film.
Gru is some piece of work. He cuts queues with the help of a freeze-ray. He makes a balloon animal for a crying kid just so he could have the pleasure of sticking a pin in it. He makes vague threats conversationally while chatting with his neighbour. Heck, he's so villainous he speaks with a Russian accent! Bald and pallid with dark circles around his eyes, he looks like Uncle Fester (from the 1992 Addams Family series in particular) and his magnificently pointy snoot is reminiscent of the two rapscallions in Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy comic strips - but that's not where the resemblance ends.
The movie chose not to pit Gru against a superhero of some sort but instead, have him antagonised by another supervillain, Vector, who looks like a grown up version of Mandark, Dexter's archnemesis in Dexter's Laboratory. He's part of a younger, hipper generation of baddies - and with his hipster glasses and immense talent for annoying the heck out of people, I'm pretty sure his list of crimes against humanity includes owning a MacBook and an iPhone too.
I'm not even sure if superheroes or even law enforcement actually exist in this universe - it feels like a cartoon version of Mark Millar's Wanted. There's even a Bank of Evil (formerly known as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.) where villains looking to finance their heinous crimes can apply for loans.
Now, Vector had stolen one of the Great Pyramids of Giza (and how he hid it is one of the most ridiculous sight gags I've seen in a long time) and the media is touting it as the crime of the century. Feeling upstaged by Vector's success, Gru plotted a heist of an even grander scale with the help of his partner, Dr. Nefario, who runs Gru's R&D Department and apparently lives in with him. That begs the question: Is Gru... gay?
Anyway, Gru is looking to steal the freaking moon. The next thing you know, he becomes the adoptive father of three orphan girls. Hilarity ensues.
The Orphan Girls.
With the exception of Agnes ("It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!"), who is possibly the most adorable little girl ever animated since Mei from My Neighbor Totoro, they are really kind of irritating. They live in a Dickensian orphanage run by a plump, mean woman called Miss Hattie who uses them as unpaid labour to push Girl Scout cookies. I hope you understand Spanish at least a little because in my showing, I was the only person who burst out in laughter during a bilingual exchange between her and Gru. For those wondering what it was, read the second postscript at the bottom of this post.
The purpose of these three little girls is to tug at our heartstrings, to lend a deeper layer to the largely slapstick humour-driven film, and to remind us just how far ahead of every other studio Pixar really is at crafting animated features that aren't just entertaining, but touching on a very human level as well.
So, once the orphans have served their purpose in Gru's diabolical scheme, what is he going to do about them? This theme of parenthood also contrasts the Freudian subplot of Gru's own upbringing by his emotionally unavailable and discouraging mother who, when Gru said he wanted to go to the moon someday, told him that he's too late because NASA isn't sending monkeys up there anymore. Julie Andews (Mary Poppins!) was barely recognisable behind her phony Yiddish/Eastern European accent - and it's awesome.
Despicable Me didn't really fail at delivering the emotional goods, but what it did do wasn't exceptionally powerful either. It felt rather manipulative somehow, a bit like the manufactured cuteness of Agnes and Gru's minions. Not that that detracts anything from their charm, of course.
Illumination Entertainment knows where their money's at when they put these lovable abominations of nature front and centre in their marketing campaign. They are yellow, indestructible, and persistently upbeat with a can-do attitude - much like a clone army of Spongebobs. They speak gibberish and engage in droll pastimes like cross-dressing, singing karaoke, photocopying their asses and performing the bidding of a criminal mastermind.
It's uncanny how very strongly they remind me of the Sims who also converse in a nonsense language called Simlish and go about their daily lives with an unintentionally comical and offbeat demeanour. If you love the little mutant corn pops, you're going to go gaga over the Sims. And vice versa, I trust.
It's evident that they adore their master religiously and would do anything he asks, and Gru seems to regard them with some degree of affection as well, going as far as to remember each and every minion's name.
Now, I needn't tell you that they contribute the lion's share of the humour found in Despicable Me. It seemed like every other minute, some minions will wander into frame to do something sidesplittingly funny. By the way, don't leave the theatre immediately after the credits started rolling, okay? You'll thank me for that heads up later.
The Final Word.
It is certainly one of the funniest pictures to have hit theatres so far this year and I couldn't think of anyone I wouldn't recommend Despicable Me to. Gru's world is a feel-good, colourful blend of the Looney Tunes universe abound with cartoon violence where explosions only cover you in soot and falling objects merely flatten, not crush you - with Miyazaki Hayao's Ghibli hills where nothing bad ever happens to children and a single bald man with questionable background could easily get approval for the adoption of three little girls, even after saying such creepy lines like: "My heart is like a tooth, and it has a cavity that can be filled only with children." It's not a movie that makes a lot of sense. It's not a movie where making sense matters terribly either.
For the benefit of Steve Carell fans (who voices Gru and gave him his outrageous Russki accent), stay tune for yet another one of Carell's signature over-the-top song and dance number at this film's end. And for cine-geeks and pop culture freaks; they even slipped in a Godfather reference, albeit a rather inorganically incorporated one.
Illumination Entertainment has made a strong debut into the CGI animated feature scene with Despicable Me, and their future lineup includes a live action/CGI hybrid about the Easter Bunny titled Hop, big screen adaptations of Ricky Gervais' Flanimals and Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, and a Where's Waldo film.
P.S. DreamWorks is releasing a very similar film about a supervillain in November called MegaMind. Fans of Monsters vs. Aliens is already calling it Gallaxhar: The Movie.
P.P.S. Minor spoiler this: the Spanish word 'burro' means 'donkey'. Gru was essentially telling Miss Hattie that she has the face of an ass.
Is itching to reinstall The Sims 3,
k0k s3n w4i