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Jul122010

DESPICABLE ME shows the heartfelt side of villainy (review)

Rating:  (Good!)

Gru (Steve Carell) is a super villain who takes pleasure in the small gifts of life. He's the kind of meanie who will take the time to create a balloon animal for a child and give it to him just so he can see the kid's face as he pops it. He'll freeze ray people in line at the coffee shop to get his latte quicker. He does crime for the fun of it. Also, for the fame. But like the Grinch, Despicable Me proves that even the most hardened villain has a heart, however small.

Bankers: The Real Super Villains

In Despicable Me, super villains aren't so different from you or I. Yes, they steal national monuments and pull off heists, but they do it for the fame. Evildoers like Gru live to be featured on the national news. So much, in fact, that they borrow money to pull off their evermore elaborate crimes. Investment banks are the real super villains. Gru, who lives in a packed suburban neighborhood, would be a nobody without the backing of an evil bank. To get funding, Gru must prove he can pull off the schemes he proposes. Forget the crimes, it's all about profits for the bank, which has a lot of cash, but no morals to match. 

Like any good fiend, Gru has an impossibly large laboratory is in his basement, which looks a lot like something you'd find in Dexter's Lab, though Dexter would be jealous of this lab's front door. Since no lab is complete without minions, Gru has a whole army of genetically modified corn pops. These guys brighten every scene they're in, a lot like the acorn-loving Scrat livens up the Ice Age films. You can't top good physical humor and these guys got it. 

But Gru has a problem. He's been topped by a newer, younger villain. While Gru manages to steal the Time's Square Jumbo Tron, this new guy steals one of the Egyptian pyramids. Talk about upstaging; jeesh. To become the world's most nefarious villain once again, Gru comes up with a new plan: he's going to steal the moon! But to get the bank's backing, he needs to get a shrink ray, and to get that, he needs to adopt three orphan girls.

Ruthless, but heartfelt

Plot aside, what I like about Despicable Me is Gru. He's not a nice man, but deep down, he wants to be. He may have a lab and Minions, but he pays them and knows all of their excessively normal names (Kyle, Frank, Kevin, etc). When they cheer for him, it's because they believe in him; they love him. When he meets the girls, he gets to know a neglected side of himself. When it comes down to it, whether we do good things or bad, we all have needs and we do the things we do to get a sense of fulfillment. Gru is a cartoon character and his situation is comical, but I'd love to live in a world with super villains like him. If our worst villains just need a little love, maybe we'll be all right.

Despicable Me is the first CGI film from Universal, through a collaboration with Illumination Entertainment. This is a valiant first effort to enter a category dominated by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. Rarely do you see a studio define itself so well with its first film. Great job. Now where can I buy a Minion?

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