'Despicable Me,' delightful movie: Animated kids' stuff is where filmmakers go to have fun

despicable-meImage Credit: UniversalThe Last Airbender, The Karate Kid, Eclipse? I’ve seen them, but don’t ask me, I’ve got no deep thoughts. Knight and Day? I reviewed it, but honestly, even if you bought a ticket, can you remember anything about that out-of-breath action/romance/comedy/spy thing-y except that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz do some stunts on a motorcycle? I’ve been away from this space for a while because for the past six weeks or so, I’ve been nursing a mild strain of Hollywooditis — a gassy, grumbly feeling similar to what happens when I drink too much diet soda, with too much fake sweetener. No point exposing you to possible infection.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a bunch of really good, interesting films out, if you’re lucky enough to be near a congenial theater. If Cyrus, Winter’s Bone, Restrepo, Solitary Man, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Please Give, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Secret In Their Eyes, Wild Grass, The Father of My Children, I Am Love, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or that little specialty number Toy Story 3 are playing in town, run — well, don’t run, it’s too hot — but walk briskly to program your own high-quality summer film festival. And you know how I feel about The Kids Are All Right: I think I’m safe declaring that, for me, it’s one of the best movies of the year. The Kids only gets better with repeated viewing.

Hi, I’ve missed you. (I’ve missed you who post weird things on the comment board, too.) And I’m happy to say that, thanks to the success of Despicable Me, an animated kids’ movie about a big bad meanie who becomes a good daddy, my fever has broken. It should be no surprise that Despicable Me did as well as it did at the box office this past weekend, because animated movies made with kids in mind have become the last, best, secret bunker for adventurous, generous Hollywood storytelling. Yes, it helps that comedy heavy-hitter Steve Carell provides the voice of the despicable fellow in question, a cartoon villain named Gru, and that the little yellow capsule-headed minions who carry out Gru’s suitably cartoon-y nefarious schemes are as effervescent as Scrubbing Bubbles. But the movie works not because of the parts — the voice work, the drawing style, the pleasing, matter-of-fact use of 3D — but because the whole is as much a unified vision as anything the Great and Mighty Pixar produces.

Despicable Me bears the imprint of the guys who made Ice Age; it also sports a certain goofy ooh-la-la that feels very French, in the way of slightly demented Gallic, Triplets of Belleville-style whimsy. The elements are sturdy — cute little orphan sisters, nutty junior evil guy reminiscent of Buddy Pine/Syndrome in The Incredibles, untrustworthy adults like the orphanage headmistress, voiced by Kristen Wiig. The story knows its place, and size, and audience. The details are charming. (I wouldn’t want to drive it, but I love Gru’s eco-destroyer of a vehicle for getting around town.)

The next adult who tells me she or he doesn’t like animation will have a lot of explaining to do. Are you one of them?

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  • Helen

    Saw “Despicable Me” over the weekend and was impressed by the quality and panache of the “art direction” – especially for the amusement park scenes. Even the artwork in the girls’ bedtime kitten storybook was endearing. (Pixar movies haven’t felt this sweet and fun for a long time…)

    • Nic.

      I really liked Despicable Me, as well. While Gru was reading the kitten book I was hoping the studio would release the book–I’m sure it would sell (Gru’s book was really cute, too). Also, I cracked up when Gru is walking into The Bank of Evil, and below the bank sign in smaller letters is “Formerly known as Leaman Brothers”! I was the only at my showing who laughed, did anyone else catch it?

      • BeaAnn

        I caught it, and heard other parents around me laughing and commenting on it. That was great! This was a great movie.

      • Jules

        The “Bank of Evil: Formerly Lehman Bros.” got a good laugh out of the adults at our showing on Friday night. Loved the movie…the minions and the littlest girl, Agnes, steal the show!!!

    • Scott

      Pixar movies haven’t felt this sweet and fun…? What was the last Pixar movie you saw?

      • BFD

        They have released “The Three Kitten’s”. It’s available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble

    • Rich

      Lisa, glad to know “Eclipse” left you cold. I was starting to wonder after Owen gave it a B+ (which would put it in his Top 10 for the year based solely on letter grades). But then I realized that YOU gave the previous ‘Twilight’ installment (‘New Moon’) a B+ as well.

      SO… Which is it? Do the mainstream Hollywood films leave you cold, or do they deserve high ratings because they succeed in their goals? (In this case, I assume the goal is “giving teenage girls something to shriek over.”) I’m honestly confused. Does your recent B+ for “Inception” mean the same thing as the B+ for “New Moon” or “Eclipse”? I really want to see the new Nolan film this weekend… but not if its plotting, acting, themes, and effects are no better than a Twilight movie.

      In other words, I have no problem with you and Owen disliking most of the mainstream Hollywood crap; I just wish the reviews of said crap were a little less milquetoast.

  • darclyte

    It was much better than I had expected or hoped it would be. I probably laughed more while watching this than I did at the various live action comedies that have been released this year so far. While not as good as a “movie” as Toy Story 3, it is worth seeing especially in 3D. There is a great scene at the amusement park which in 3D was awesome, and there is a bit during the end credits with the minions “interacting” with the 3D effect that wouldn’t make sense in 2D and may not even be in the credits in the 2D version. It’s fun and entertaining, perfect at matinee prices, and isn’t just a “kid’s movie.”

    • vicki

      The end credits with the minions did indeed appear in the 2D version. Although, impressively, the rollercoaster scene was effective even in 2D, making me get a wee bit anxious as if I were actually on a rollercoaster. Amazing!

    • California

      My sister and I saw the movie in 2D and the credits are the same … I still found them funny, even though it was blatant that they would be best enjoyed in 3D.

      I wholeheartedly feel that Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me are the best movies in theaters at the moment! Really looking forward to Inception though ;)

  • Beth

    I haven’t seen “Despicable Me” but plan on it. I completely agree with the assessment that animation is the best. “How to Train Your Dragon” is one of my favorite movies to come out in a while. I also enjoyed “Toy Story 3.” I have nothing against live action movies, they just haven’t wowed me much recently.

  • Matt

    Yeah, I’ve been excited about Despicable Me since I’d seen that opening scene trailer months and months and months ago, with the catchy Pharrell rap playing over it. I was very afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But MAN is this movie delectable. It’s outstanding – touching, smart, clever, and I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much or so hard inside a movie theater. This is a movie for kids and adults alike. Thanks for championing it, Lisa!

  • Drew

    I thought you really enjoyed ‘Splice?’ I saw it based largely on your review and think it’s definitely one of the few highlights of the summer’s wide releases so far.

  • nunnya

    I saw the movie with two other adults and we all thought it was a real lark. It is practically a reunion of the Forgetting Sara Marshall crew with Pharell Williams providing the score. We were all happy we paid the $3 extra dollars for the 3D. Overall, it’s def one of the better movies that I have seen in a while. Not sure I would put it on par with Pixar, but very clever in its own right.

  • Momo

    “Despicable Me” was adorable and funny. I’m always surprised to read how “shocked” studios are when these so-called “kids movies” exceed their expectations. It happens almost every time! My favorite movies this year have been animated. Most of the time they have been original, heartwarming, and mostly, I enjoy how they never feel like they’re movies made to be important. They just are because they are, without trying. I hope Hollywood learns that enjoyable movies don’t have to contain potty humor, tons of explosions, or an air of self-importance in order to get audiences.

  • Vicky

    I think the best movies I’ve seen this year have all been animated. How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, and Despicable Me were great.

    • dharma swan

      Couldn’t agree more ~ all 3 of those were terrific.

    • TV_Pete

      Wow! I had not thought about it, but those are my 3 favorite movies of the year by a mile. I’m not sure the 3D adds as much for Toy Story 3, but they are probably the “must see” for me and mine.

  • Sarah El

    Animated movies are the only good ones I’ve seen this year. Well, Kick-Ass was also good, but that movie was about two steps away from being animated, so there’s that (Iron Man 2 is kind of in the same boat). But between this, How to Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story 3, thank god for animation because it is the only “genre” keeping me sane this season.

    • Marisol

      This article is rlleay well researched. I think this content is valuable information that you have written in a unique way. You’ve represented your views in an interesting, engaging way that makes your readers think.

  • SHELLY

    I saw it this weekend with my 17 year old and her bf. We all loved it but someone of my favortie movies are animated. I did not see it in 3D. But it was still wonderful.

  • court

    I saw Despicable Me on Friday. I really did enjoy it. However, no animated movies affect me like Pixar movies do. Finding Nemo, Up, all of the Toy Storys–these movies are classics to me.

  • Hanover fiste

    Not to give anything away but,the “glow Stick” gag was just drop dead fall out of the seat funny.

    • CWaj

      OMG. Don’t remember the gag. Please remind me. My 50-something friend and I loved it! Probably my fave animated. Did not see in 3D and have no clue what 2D is. Could not tell it was Steve Carrel and in fact, did not recognize any of the voices. Great fun!

    • Nikki

      TOTALLY agree. The 2 funniest parts of the movie for me was when the “cousin” minion said “WHAAAAT?” and the “It’s so FLUUUUUFFFFY!” scenes. And even though they still made me laugh, I had already laughed myself silly watching the previews and the clips online; and I knew when they were coming in the movie.
      So when the glow stick scene happened, I about lost it. So glad that wasn’t in the previews.

      • Jules

        Loved, loved, loved the “Whaaat?” scene with the minion…so so funny!

      • Matt

        “IT’S SO FLUFFFYYYYY!” was the best part of the movie.

  • flippant

    Wow. Despicable Me, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon. Before them Ponyo and Wall-E. We really have an embarrassment of animated riches these days. After seeing TS3, though, one of my first thoughts was it would be nice if Pixar could lighten up a little. I don’t need an emotional bat to the side of the head, in fact I almost avoided the movie because I knew it was coming. Actually, I’d like to see them stretch and try a total piece of chaos like a 21st century Marx Bros kind of thing.

  • RyanK

    Lisa, I want to put that quote on my Facebook page: “…animated movies made with kids in mind have become the last, best, secret bunker for adventurous, generous Hollywood storytelling.”

    So completely true.

  • Diego

    WHAT?!” The scene with the kids and the minions playing and then got caught by Gru and u hear the minion go “what/!”was the most simple yet classic comedy second in animated film. when i try to remember it i still laugh about it. great film

    • Ihab

      Your article is truly orngaiil and genuine. I think the points you’ve made are solid and interesting. They are views I can agree on and appreciate. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on this subject.

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