VOICES OF: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Miranda Cosgrove, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, Jemaine Clement, Julie Andrews

2010, 95 Minutes, Directed by: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin

On the one hand, yes, it's nice that Gru (voice of Steve Carell, sounding like a third spy in the employ of Fearless Leader), the adoptive father of three precocious orphans, learns the importance of family. On the other, it's a bit strange that Gru, the criminal mastermind who doesn't seem to care two licks for anyone other than himself, is more misunderstood than misanthropic . . .

Despicable Me is about a most lovable super villain who is a failure at his career in causing chaos and disarray. He only finds his stride when supported by those adorable kids.

Even with his own theme song, Gru is a bit bland as a baddie: bashing neighboring cars while parallel parking in his long, tall, jet-powered vehicle that would make SUV drivers feel even more insecure; reminding his neighbor that a dead dog can't do its business on his grass; and encasing the patrons of a coffee house who are ahead of him in line in ice. (Consider also his house, which looks just like the rest of the Victorian style abodes on his block, only taller, more menacing, and . . . purple.)

(Early on the dastardly scoundrel spots a kid who's dropped his ice cream cone, fashions a balloon animal for the tyke, and then pops his own hard work with a pin, adding injury to insult from injury).

After a techno-friendly villain named Vector (voice of Jason Segel) steals the Great Pyramid of Giza, Gru needs to make a comeback. His newest plan is to steal the moon, the next best thing to fulfilling his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut and going there—dreams that were summarily shot down by his hard-to-please mother (voice of Julie Andrews).

Vector has the shrink ray Gru needs to complete his lunar larceny. Meanwhile, three orphan girls named Margo, Edith, and Agnes (voices of Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher) are at odds with their own nemesis, a social worker (voice of Kristen Wiig) who runs a cookie-selling ring with the orphans in her charge as the dealers. While Gru is no match for Vector's laser/missile/shark defense system, the three girls get in with no problem, leading the cunning conniver to adopt and use the girls in his scheme.

"Even with his own theme song, Gru is a bit bland as a baddie . . ."

So screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio attempt to balance Gru's life as a selfish outlaw and his budding awakening to parental responsibility, and the result weighs more heavily on the side of the latter. Abandoning Gru's nefarious nature, the screenplay almost immediately has him becoming a legitimate father figure, taking them to an amusement park (and planning to abandon them until forced to stick around then enjoying a roller coaster and winning a fluffy unicorn doll for the youngest), reading them a bedtime story, and saving the date for their ballet recital (which, of course, falls on the same day as his moon-stealing operation).

There is some transitional time to this shift but not enough to establish Gru as an evil force to be reckoned with. This duty is left to his older gadget guru Dr. Nefario (voice of Russell Brand), who frequently mishears the names of devices, and, to a lesser extent, his unnatural minions, a collection of short, yellow, oval-shaped pods, who apparently live in Gru's massive, underground fortress and should consider unionizing before thinking they'll be getting a raise or stop being used as guinea pigs anytime soon.

The effective comedy bits arrive mainly in thanks to these side players and a few biting cultural references early on: the lampoon version of the American family that haplessly discovers the theft of the pyramid and a stab at a collapsed bank which is now the Bank of Evil (versus the unspoken glorification of the company responsible for distributing the movie).

Gru and the girls are left to their own devices. Repeated flashbacks to his childhood reinforce that Gru isn't wholly bad and his interactions with the girls remind of that fact. The bond between them is ultimately sweet and touching, but the story doesn't earn its sentimentality.

What's missing is the bite of Despicable Me. Earlier scenes show that the movie knows how to make Gru likeable because he's a nasty customer. The rest wants him to be such in spite of his personality. There is a distinction, and one for which the movie suffers.

- Mark Dujsik


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