RogerBW's Blog

Despicable Me 30 August 2015

2010, dir. Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud; IMDb / allmovie

The supervillain Gru finds that he needs three little girls for his latest nefarious scheme: to steal the Moon. But he's not as much of a hard case as he thinks he is.

That's pretty much the story summed up right there. The story is not what we're here for. What this film does well is action, yes, but also characterisation.

Action first. There's lots of visual appeal here: 1950s polished metal, gleaming Apple-style curved white plastic, implausible flying vehicles with smoking jet engines, platforms that rise suddenly on completely impossible scissor-lifts… The artwork and animation are not super-detailed as far as individual characters go, but there's always a lot going on. (This came out in 3D, as every filmmaker rushed to try to copy the success of Avatar, so the colours had to be bright to survive the transition.)

But the characterisation is the real gem for me, starting with Gru himself. He's a villain by profession, but he knows every single one of his near-indistinguishable yellow minions by name, and they clearly regard him as a Good Thing. He may steal major landmarks for a living, but he still remembers the little boy who wanted to go to the Moon.

Then there are the three orphaned girls who get drawn in to the scheme. Yes, their narrative job is to be cute and melt Gru's heart, and they do that well enough; but they also work as individuals. There's Margo the older and street-wise protector, active and cheerfully bloodthirsty Edith, and tiny unicorn-fan knitted-hat-wearing Agnes. They may always stay together, but they're clearly individuals.

Edith: Are these beds made out of bombs?

Gru: Yes, but they are very old and highly unlikely to blow up. But try not to toss and turn.

Edith: Cool!

The bad guys, a Bank of Evil manager apparently based on Dilbert's Boss and a young villain called Vector, are a bit more one-note; Vector seems to be inspired by Austin Powers, or perhaps Woody Allen. In fact there are quite a few call-outs to films from the 1970s and later: at one point Gru wakes up with a doll's head in his bed, a shrinking ray fired at the Moon produces an effect just like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan's Genesis Device simulation, and so on.

This isn't an amazing film, but it's agreeable and enjoyable. It's not Toy Story, but then nothing is. It's almost free of bodily function jokes, a rare blessing in any sort of comedy these days; and it's not an extension of an existing franchise, but rather an original world. Nothing that will redefine the way you look at films, but well worth a look even so.

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  1. Posted by DaveD at 12:53pm on 30 August 2015

    I watched this a couple of months ago in self-defence, since the Minions are A Thing. Despite my general loathing of cuteness, I really enjoyed both this and its sequel, and I think Gru's relationships with his staff was the main reason why.

    The really clever part of this movie for me was the Minions, and I can see why they've become A Thing. That sort of slapstick normally irritates the living hell out of me, but here they were done well enough that I actually enjoyed their shenanigans.

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