Among the plethora of animation studios founded in the past few years, none has garnered more attention than Illumination. The studio’s family-friendly, slapstick-heavy features have all been box-office hits the world over, despite receiving a lukewarm reception from critics. Despicable Me was Illumination’s debut effort, a film which is adequately executed, at best.
When the Pyramids of Giza are stolen, suspicion for who committed the crime immediately falls on Gru (Steve Carell), the world’s greatest super-villain. For once though, it was not Gru who perpetrated the crime, rather a younger villain in an orange tracksuit named Vector (Jason Segel). Consumed with jealousy, Gru decides to undertake his most dastardly plan of all: stealing the Earth’s moon.
Before he can steal the moon, Gru needs a rocket ship to get there, and so heads to the nearby Bank of Evil to obtain a loan. The bank rejects Gru’s application, telling him that he’ll need a shrink-ray before his loan can be accepted. Unperturbed, Gru thieves a prototype shrink-ray from a remote science laboratory, only to have it looted from him by Vector, who stashes the weapon in his ultramodern, high-security fortress.
Gru’s attempts to steal the gun from Vector’s not-so-secluded hideout – it’s only a few blocks away from his own home – are far from successful, but he does witness a group of orphans enter Vector’s abode with no trouble. Soon after, Gru heads to the local orphanage to adopt the three girls – Margo (Miranda “Summer” Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) – and use them a means to complete his heist.
Joining the characters on this escapade are the Minions, a group of small, gibberish-speaking creatures – some one-eyed, some with two – who seem to take great delight in mischief and villainy. Actually, they take delight in just about every activity, whether that be shopping for a new toy, listening to Gru’s pep talks or having tea parties with the children. Though the Minions are intended to be comic relief, they tend to come across as bland rather than funny, so it’s just as well they are seldom seen on-screen.
Thankfully, the human characters possess more personality than the Minions do. Despite being introduced as a “villain”, it’s very easy to like Gru, whose heart and compassion is as strong as his pseudo-Russian accent; Margo, Edith and Agnes all have distinctive personas, with the latter being the very definition of adorable – as innocent as can be, she is an abundance of happiness who looks up to Gru and, like the Minions, partakes in every happening with seemingly endless enthusiasm.
Pity those who watch Despicable Me don’t experience the same euphoria. The plot is mediocre, to say the least, utilising tropes seen time and again in other animated features. From the moment the girls are introduced, it’s obvious that they’re going to warm to Gru, and that he will abandon his cold, distant temperament to take care of them. Even the animation lacks sparkle, with the rendering being on-par with an early 2000s release.
If there’s one positive thing that can be said about the visuals, it’s that the character designs are very creative – their distinctive appearances look as though they belong in a Sylvain Chomet production rather than a Hollywood blockbuster. In addition to that, the film does have its funny moments, but they don’t come during the slapstick. More often than not, it’s Agnes’ lines that bring the biggest laughs, or the visual gags that appear every-so-often.
Though one could never justify labelling it a “classic”, Despicable Me is harmless viewing and a pretty good picture. Save for an unexciting story and poorly-rendered animation, there isn’t any reason to hate it, but nor is that reason enough to see it.