I seem to be writing about expectations quite a bit lately. I give the old college effort to keep from going into a movie with too much excitement or anxiety and yet it’s starting to feel like a lost cause these days. Similar to the way Nicholas Cage keeps getting major film roles, the symptoms of the Expectation Virus keep popping up when I’d much prefer a more subdued, even slightly doubtful approach going in. That’s kind of the territory I like to be in for all movies: interested enough to see it but not holding out for anything more than two hours of entertainment. That way, if a movie doesn’t hit the mark, I’m not overly disappointed and if it brings the noise (and/or the funk), I’m pleasantly surprised. When I saw the first couple of trailers for “Despicable Me,” I thought it looked alright, worth seeing, but probably nothing to get my hopes up for. And then I was inundated with reviews and opinions that described this movie in such glowing terms as to cause the retched disease of Expectation to come bursting forth. So thanks a ton to all of you who set me up for failure.
“Despicable Me” centers around the semi-evil activities of world renowned super villain Gru (voice by Steve Carell). Gru, his mad scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and his team of yellow minions (think Oompa Loompas plus Larry the Cucumber from “Veggietales”) have pulled a few big jobs but nothing compared to that of Vector (Jason Segal), Gru’s nemesis who recently stole an Egyptian pyramid. To get back on top, Gru sets out on a two part heist in which he will first attempt to steal a shrink ray gun and use it to miniaturize the Moon. Vector, however, has the same idea and jacks the shrink ray gun from Gru, locking it away in a fortress that seems to have only one weakness: Vector’s affinity for Girl Scout cookies. Hatching a plan on the go, Gru adopts three sisters from a local orphanage (you know, like any good super villain would) and uses them to break into Vector’s complex. But as he recovers the shrink ray gun and begins making preparations to steal the moon, he finds he’s becoming more and more attached to his new family members, leading his two worlds eventually collide.
I give the writers and directors behind “Despicable Me” a lot of credit for the film’s originality. The whole bad-guy-gets-his-heart-softened-by-a-kid thing has been done, sure, but “Despicable” really does bring some new material to the table. The concept may be slightly cliché but the world in which the film takes place is so odd as to seem different and fresh. Gru is an interesting character who seems from the very beginning to be less cut out for the world of evil than he’d like to think. As always, Steve Carell gives a strong performance packed with funny lines and the perfect timing I’ve come to expect from the guy. Carell is becoming the master of bringing an authentic dose of heart to otherwise unlikeable or uninspiring characters and that’s something “Despicable” would be lost without. In addition, the kids bring the requisite combination of cute and humor to keep the ball rolling. And the minions, whom I feared would grow old quickly, actually kept me chuckling along with the dozens of kids in my theater. Plus, I’m of the opinion that if you’re making an animated movie, you should be required to cast Will Arnett and his A-MAZING vocal talent so “Despicable” gets extra points for that.
In the end, though, “Despicable” doesn’t go far beyond “cute kid’s movie” territory. It’s fun, mildly humorous, entertainment but that’s where its merits end. By no means do I mean to say there’s anything wrong with it. To be honest just the fact that it kept my interest throughout and didn’t induce groaning and/or vomiting makes it better than the average children’s feature. (I promise the same could not be said for most of the movies advertised before “Despicable.” So glad I don’t have kids yet.) But in a year that has brought us “Toy Story 3” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” animated movies have a lot to measure up to if they want to stick out. There’s nothing inherently off about “Despicable Me,” it’s just not one of the best movies I’ve seen this year as that darned Expectation Virus had me thinking it might be.
All told, “Despicable Me” is a fine kid’s movie that should keep the average parent almost as entertained as their children. It reminded me a lot of “Shrek.” I didn’t love “Shrek” but I certainly didn’t mind it; fun, just not great. I’m not rushing out to buy the Blu Ray but if I run across it late at night after I’ve already watched Sportscenter once or twice, I’d be happy to watch it again. For me the enduring legacy of “Despicable Me” will always be the fact that it dethroned the latest “Twilight” crap fest at the top of the Box Office Charts, thereby sparing America of another depressing yet glittery week at the mercy of the Cullen gang. For that I will forever be grateful.
I’d be happy if I had no idea who Edward Cullen is,