I'm not prone to hyperbole in criticism, but Despicable Me is the funniest animation of the summer. Partly wacky, partly madcap, fairly light on story -- it's just a good old fashioned one-liner kind of film. To it's credit, Despicable Me is an innovative piece of movie-making that should appeal to children and adults alike. Hmmm, that may have been more hyperbole. I'll do better after this paragraph, promise.
The sad truth about our current cinematic landscape is that there aren't enough animations about villains. Oh sure, plenty of animations have villains for the good guys to beat up on, but we rarely get to revel in the misdoings of a solidly mean main character. Up came close last year, though Carl was more grouchy than villainous. Monsters vs. Aliens and The Incredibles have featured decent baddies, but the positive role models selfishly took up most of the screen time. So it is refreshing here to see an original work centered around Gru, voiced by Steve Carrell, a slightly over-the-hill villain trying to reclaim his meanie mojo. Now, spoiler alert, of course this is a redemptive story, otherwise they wouldn't be aiming squarely for the family dollar. But before that third act resolution it's good to see a bedtime story not read, an evil plan hatched to perfection. It's good to see these things in cinema because we rarely see them, and in a land where everyone copies everything it's easy to appreciate a fresh perspective. That's Gru, a wacky and heavily accented misanthrope looking for a loan from the bank of evil.
Which brings us nicely to point two; the delightful silliness of the world Gru inhabits. It's a world where evil geniuses need loans from the "bank of evil" to make the plan come together. This touch of realism is a life raft to the adults in the crowd, providing that needed kick of motivation and drive we like to see in our main characters.
The plot is relatively thin, Gru is harassed by a younger villain named Vector (voiced by Jason Segel). Gru's big plan is to steal the moon, and he enlists the help of three young orphan girls to accomplish said theft. He's also aided by his own mad scientist and an army of Minions, the little yellow creatures you've seen splashed all over the poster. The Minions are instant comedy, whenever a scene is slow they just throw them in and *poof* comedy ensues. It's pretty diabolical actually, these little yellow gremlins who don't speak English becoming the go-to release valve for the film. But they are, and it works, we should all be grateful that a studio still has the ability to make a joke that doesn't involve a man rope-swinging into a tree like a giant idiot. We all could use more minion-related comedy.
And now for the facts of the matter. I laughed more in Despicable Me than I did in Toy Story 3. The jokes, almost by definition, aren't nearly as telegraphed. Universal and directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaudhas have made a film where the child next to you laughs and then quotes the film back to you, all while you're chuckling too. Well played.
Most importantly, Despicable Me is just darned cute. I know cute isn't to the lofty level of "message storytelling" but it can certainly be entertaining to watch when done correctly. It's done correctly here, so go out there and get Minioned. Take a younger human with you.