by KYW’s Bill Wine
Is there room in moviegoing children’s affection for another 3-D animated comedy this summer? Even if the “hero” is actually a villain who would describe himself proudly as Despicable Me? Sure, why not.
Despicable Me revolves around the dastardly, diabolical Gru, a megalomaniacal mastermind voiced by Steve Carell, who delights in all things wicked and relishes his inclusion on the list of top supervillains.
Backed by an army of minions — little yellow something-or-others who look like Cheese Curls on steroids, wear safety goggles 24/7, and tirelessly do his bidding in his basement laboratory — he figures out ways to become Public Enemy #1.
What worries him is that a rival villain named Vector (Jason Segel) has gone and stolen his thunder by purloining one of the Egyptian pyramids. Gru needs a splashy idea to get back on top in the eyes of the villain-admiring world and his love-and-appreciation-withholding, sardonic mother (Julie Andrews).
Yep, grown Gru has mommy issues.
And what he has in mind is the biggest, most elaborate and audacious heist ever: he plans to steal the moon by shrinking it and bringing it down to Earth.
So first he’ll need help with the funding, which is why he goes to the Bank of Evil (“Formerly Lehman Brothers,” as the sign says. Nifty joke).
And he’ll need the help of three little girls from the local orphanage — Margo, Edith, and Agnes — who, because they’re selling cookies door-to-door, can help Gru gain entrance to Vector’s home and steal his shrink ray, which Gru will need for his scheme.
And that’s why he adopts the innocent trio, despite minimal apparent interest in their existence or welfare, while they see this child-bullying churl as a potential dad.
But he better be careful before these adorable kids melt his misplaced heart.
Carell delivers his voiced villain with a fractured Eastern European accent that has just enough beneath-the-surface warmth to make his inevitable eventual conversion (not exactly a spoiler here, huh?) play.
And Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, and Danny McBride also bring their familiar vocal cords and comedic line readings to the party.
Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, animators directing their first full-length film, work from a script by Ken Dauro and Cinco Paul based on a story by Sergio Pablos. The cartoon collaborators provide sight gags galore, although it seems that they sometimes allow the dictates of the 3-D process to distract them from their own narrative.
They also make sure to include enough adult humor to keep chaperones engaged. As for the emotional engagement they (that is, we) seek, it arrives, but not until fairly late in the game.
The hip sensibility on display can be fun, but the film has stretch marks as a feature film. It might have made for a more satisfyingly high-spirited short.
Nevertheless, make sure to stay for the closing credits to see an amusing sendup of the whole 3-D craze we’re living through.
Meanwhile, we’ll steal 2½ stars out of 4 for a wiseacre, high-energy, computer-animated toon. Despicable Me is not quite dazzling, but decently diverting and decidedly closer to delicious than despicable.