Despicable Me is not exactly fresh out of the oven, but I’ve just seen it, so you have to suffer through my review. Feeling grateful yet?
I caught it while pursuing (one of my) day job(s): looking after a bunch of kids. They all enjoyed it, and I’ll go spoiler on you thus far: I did too.
Despicable Me was released to theaters in July 2010 and is an animation feature produced by Universal Pictures and Illumination entertainment. It was also released in 3-D (which movie nowadays isn’t?), but since I’ve seen it in 2-D I can’t tell you about the merits of dimension number three, though I doubt it added much to the overall quality of the film. But let’s move on to the things I liked and those I didn’t, shall we?
Ok, does anyone else think the whole “the villain is the real hero of this movie” thing feels already dated? I sure do, and at the beginning of Despicable Me I had a bit eye-rolling going on, thinking: oh, one of those. But alas, the tides have turned, my friends. The nice touch in Despicable Me – besides the issue being that the villain-hero is really no villain as in an evil person, but more of a big-hearted weirdo – is that being an evil thief is depicted like it’s just your average job option. Okay, you got superbrains and a mad scientist? Qualification standards met! I find that to be refreshing in that it both makes me ask why it’s just considered to be another day job, and why seemingly nobody is capable of finding the stolen pyramid, but the movie manoeuvres around a giant potential pitfall by just taking it for granted and not explaining a second of it.
I’ve elaborated in my Game of Thrones and Fantastic Mr. Fox reviews why I’m not a fan of the looking-for-the-father’s-recognition trope. Here we encounter an interesting reversal in that Gru (the movie’s protagonist) is looking for recognition from his (supposed) single mom. Which is in itself pretty rad, but then there is also her late realization that she might not be the best mother the face of the earth ever saw. Which is a realization that you’d not expect by a character in a family-friendly animated movie that portrays this character as likeable. The times we live in!
Oh, and of course, we have to linger at bit on gender issues, not only cause we like to talk about them, but also because we get to see the development of Gru from master-thief to single dad of three adopted daughters. Self referencing galore in this post I’ll direct you to my Lilo & Stitch review here, where I talk extensively about why having a say in who you consider to be family really is about the most awesome concept on the planet. Single moms and single dads, orphaned children and grown-up nerds that infuriate their fathers. This film really caters to those who think that it’s not all about your typical nuclear family and the fanboys. Unless they get the joke.
Cause how good is one of the two “real” villains? Vector is Gru’s antagonist, but he too remains endearing to the extent that he is so very much a child of the times we live in (where everything looks like it was just designed by some apple-rip-off company), living the life every nerdy fanboy dreams of, celebrating his own utter ridiculousness.
Ok, shoot me, but really, one of the weakest points of the whole movie is the three girls. Don’t get me wrong, they totally serve their cause in making Gru realize what life is really all about, but other than that they’re very cookie-cutter (the clever one, the cool emotionally detached one, and the cute but crazy one) and don’t work at all as individual characters or as anything other than Gru’s externalized conscience, for that matter. Now, I can’t say: “I could have done without them,” cause then that would have been a whole different movie, but I just wish they would have been a little rounder characters. It’s interesting when we compare them to the minions, Gru’s army of yellow little beings that basically serve to cause trouble, cheer for him or just be downright cute. Although they are only minimally individualized, at the end of the movie I was left feeling I got to know them better than any of the girls. Which is a cool thing for the minions, but not too much for the girls.
And yes, I know, the “villain is the most interesting character in about every story” is a cliché come to life, but this movie’s hidden gem really is the mistress of the orphanage that the three girls live in, Miss Hattie.
Very reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies, she looks so conservatively cute and demure just to reveal the most despicable personality of them all in this movie. I know that I’m supposed to hate her, but because the movie does so well in portraying her as being very hate-able with only a few brush-strokes here and there, I am totally smitten with this character. We – at least I – meet people like this basically every other day and while they think they’re totally likeable, decent and righteous, they’re really basically just monsters in conservative attire, which makes it all the harder to call them out for their effin’ bigotry.
A few sidenotes: The dog. Annoying. Gimmicky. Irrelevant. The Russian accent. Now there lies a whole issue, and it made me kinda angry in the beginning, until I realized that what the film really does is playing with our prejudices, and that the stereotypical evil Russian guy turns out to the be loveable hero of the film. Fauxpas redeemed. And then there is the shamebox: ouch and heehee, at the same time.
So to conclude this little review: Despicable Me is a decent movie in that it is moving, funny and good if you have kids or happen to go to movies with kids. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is definitely enjoyable.