On DVD: Despicable Me

It’s always nice when a movie surpasses expectations. It’s even nicer when that better-than- expected film negates the potential title-related puns that critics could have used to lambaste it. In other words, there’s nothing despicable to say about “Despicable Me” other than the title’s overall irrelevance and potential roadblock to making more money.

In a time where the age demographic for animated features isn’t confined to under 10 thanks to our friends at DreamWorks and Pixar, one never knows what to expect. “Despicable Me” is explicitly for the kiddies, however, with a few under-the-radar adult jokes. Adults will appreciate its cuteness and be generally amused, but Illumination Entertainment’s debut film stays mostly slap-happy and goofy, very much so in the tradition of “Looney Tunes.” In fact, you might even miss “Looney Tunes” a bit after this hour and a half of predominantly physical gags where characters walk away from explosions with nothing but soot on their face.

Following the trend of superheroes and supervillains pervading family entertainment the last 5-10 years, “Despicable Me” focuses on devious Russian-accented supervillain Gru (Steve Carell), who’s best known for stealing the Times Square Jumbotron and the statue of liberty – – well, the miniature from Las Vegas. Needless to say, Gru is losing his mojo and to make up for it, he plans to steal the moon. Only problem is, a new rival villain named Vector (Jason Segel) has stolen the shrink ray — that he stole. Without it, he cannot steal the moon, nor secure the loan he needs from the Bank of Evil to build his rocket ship to get there.

That’s where the “Adventures in Babysitting” part comes in, another all-to-common trend in family entertainment of late. Fortunately, here’s another area where “Despicable Me” has gone and made it work anyway. Three orphan girls with the unfortunate names of Margo, Edith and Agnes manage to get into Vector’s super-secure high-tech hideout right in front of Gru’s eyes. He concocts what he thinks to be a brilliant plan: adopt the girls and have them bring Vector robot cookies that will infiltrate and steal back the shrink ray. As you’d expect, the girls become more than he bargained for, and ultimately test his cold, stubborn heart.

“Despicable Me” doesn’t necessarily rise above these clichés with a fresh or innovative approach. It merely executes them well and not to excess, never seeming like too much of a kids movie. The yellow pill-shaped minions, for example, while not all that funny or lovable, work well and add a somewhat different dimension to the movie to keep it balanced.

The film’s plot is irrelevant and stays that way, which is a sign of a film that understands its role as entertainment and executes as such. By selecting simple and predictable narrative patterns, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud’s creativity with the sequences and characters becomes the focus. Arguably, however their ability to not take any moment of the film too seriously makes “Despicable Me” work. Considering the tried-and-true physical comedy spread throughout, it definitely takes a certain silliness to make decades-old cartoon tactics work for a modern audience.

“Despicable Me” figures it out and does so without pandering to kids and families, a movie that’s age appropriate but not exclusively so.

3.5/5 Stars

Despicable Me
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Written by Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos and Cinco Paul
Starring: (voices) Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove, Russel Brand

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