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Film Review: Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2007; Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud)

Call me arch or humourless if you will, but I really did not dig this classically-cartoonish allegory for the deferred ambition of parenthood as much as many critics did, to say nothing of its embrace by the children that were its target audience.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a supervillain with a vast secret lair manned by an army of yellow, jabbering, begoggled minions (I believe it’s supposed to be capitalized now, but anyway). Assisted in his schemes of stealing gigantic, immovable objects by a mad scientist ally, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) as well as his Minions, Gru conceives of a grand plan to steal the moon to show up upstart rival supervillain Vector (Jason Segal), who dinged Gru’s supervillain ego by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Gru’s scheme becomes entwined with three orphan girls (the lead girl is voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), who he uses at first to infiltrate Vector high-security base (he tells them that he’s a dentist) before developing a fondness for them and eventually adopting them. And so Despicable Me becomes a moral fable of balancing personal and professional pride and ambitions with the emotional entanglements and fulfillments of family.

There’s some imaginative cartoon wackiness to Despicable Me, especially when it comes to Vector’s base and the shrunken moon (whose ensmallened effects may be dangerously temporary). You can also feel the tug of the cutesy supporting Minions dragging this world towards an inevitable spin-off (which, along with proper sequels, is very much happening). They never quite take over the movie, but it feels like they’re always just about to; the jaundiced buggers are the film’s obvious entry-point for impressionable children patrons, and its box-office success indicates that they played their intended role to perfection.

But maybe I just need a little more slyness with my feature animation, or just meatier social metaphors buried behind the colourful comedic adventure. Or maybe I just need a few more instances of ironic and/or referentially intelligent humour to cling onto alongside the kiddie pratfalls and maudlin emotional beats (although the French creative centre of the production slides in some digs at classic American canards where they can). I laughed with intent but twice in this film: “The Bank of Evil (Formerly Lehman Brothers)” and “It’s so fluffy, I could die!”. To reduce a film, then, to inherently proscriptive five-star ratings, which I don’t tend to relish doing? Two stars for two real laughs? Sounds about fine to me.

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