Evil was never so heartwarming
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, July 9, 2010
I cannot lie: I spent the first several minutes of "Despicable Me" squirming uncomfortably, never laughing and barely cracking a smile. The nasty streak that animates its protagonist, a hollow-eyed supervillain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), is so deep and wide as to seem insurmountable.
But hang in there and "Despicable Me" turns into an improbably heartwarming, not to mention visually delightful, diversion. After another evildoer impresses the world by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza, Gru looks for his big comeback and hits on the idea of stealing the moon. He adopts three sweet girls from an orphanage run by a sadistic Southern belle (Kristen Wiig) and, along with an army of tiny yellow "minions," begins to bring his plan into action. (Those minions, by the way, pretty much steal the movie, much like the adorable singing slugs in "Flushed Away.")
Carell, taking a page or two from Drs. Evil and Horrible (from "Austin Powers" and Joss Whedon's "Sing-Along Blog," respectively), affects an indeterminate Slavic accent to play Gru, but the expert timing is in full force as his character tries mightily to resist the parental tug his three young charges elicit. "Despicable Me" features some ace voice talent, including Russell Brand, Jason Segel and Will Arnett as the president of the Bank of Evil ("Formerly Lehman Brothers"). Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, the film boasts a stylized look inspired by Edward Gorey, James Bond movies and Looney Tunes, an aesthetic that manages to be retro and futuristic all at once.
The action and laughs of the story make "Despicable Me" a terrific choice for families still on a high from "Toy Story 3," but it deserves even more credit for its elegant visual design and use of 3-D, which here looks crisp and bright and provides genuine visual excitement. A roller-coaster ride set to a sprightly tune by Pharrell Williams makes the most of an element that seems tacked on in so many movies lately.
Filmgoers are also urged to hang around for the closing credits, which feature 3-D stunts reminiscent of the good old "House of Wax" days. As "Despicable Me" proves, showmanship counts, whether you're trying to rule the world or just the weekend summer box office.
Contains rude humor and mild action.