The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Despicable Me
Gru and his minions prepare to steal the moon.

It's been said that a movie hero is only as interesting as his villain. But what if the hero is a villain? This is the track taken by the animated comedy Despicable Me. Of course, he's not a particularly competent villain, and his nemesis is a villain who is even more despicable. Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is like a cross between Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies and "The Office" boss Michael Scott. His schemes include things like stealing the Statue of Liberty (albeit the one from Vegas), but he also has something bigger up his sleeve. Using a shrink ray designed by his in-house mad scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), he intends to shrink and steal the moon. When a rival villain named Vector (Jason Segal) gets wise to this, he vows to outdo Gru.

Gru's chance to stop Vector comes when he sees three orphan girls, led by Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), selling cookies to him and successfully getting inside the front door of his fortress. Gru adopts the girls, planning to use and then dispose of them. However, they are so sweet and cute that even he has a hard time resisting their charms.

The scene stealers of Despicable Me aren't the children, but rather Gru's "minions" - little yellow pill-shaped creatures that yammer incomprehensibly and have a knack for making mischief. They aren't real bright, but they do provide many of the picture's biggest laughs.

Story-wise, there's nothing particularly special here. I think you can probably guess where the plot eventually ends up. It gets there with really no fresh twists, and how Gru softens up isn't developed in too much detail. His rivalry with Vector is kind of half-baked too. They're rivals because…well, because the screenplay calls for them to be. I suppose the planet ain't big enough for two baddies of this caliber.

Despicable Me is the most recent animated feature to be released in both 3-D and 2-D formats. Like Shrek Forever After and Toy Story 3, it is not a film that needs to be seen in 3-D. Aside from a few choice bits - most notably a scene on a roller coaster - there isn't much here that maximizes the benefit of an extra dimension. The 3-D is pleasant, but not essential.

Despite these minor flaws, everything else in the movie is massively fun. The animation is very cleverly conceived, as it contrasts the dark, angular world of Gru with the softer, rounder presence of the little girls. It's humorous just to see them side by side. Then you get the comic madness of the minions. Everything they do is both amusingly animated and hilarious. They serve the same purpose as the squirrel Skrat in the Ice Age films: to come in periodically and take over. The humor throughout is effective, with scenes and dialogue that both children and adults can enjoy.

I also just really like this character of Gru. Steve Carell transcends the idea of stunt casting by creating a genuine persona for the villain. With his thick German accent and his insecurities constantly bubbling up, he's an original creation. Carell brings Gru to life in a first-rate bit of voice acting. For whatever imperfections it may have, the combination of Gru, the minions, some cool animation, and a lot of wit make Despicable Me worth taking the whole family to see.

A side note: You can download something called the Best Buy Movie Mode application for your smart phone. During the end credits of the 3-D version, the app will translate the minions' dialogue for you as they engage in a little extra onscreen mischief. To my surprise, it actually worked. Without spoilers, one of them takes a shot at Twilight, and for me that was the best laugh of the movie.

( out of four)

Despicable Me is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.