You worry going into these cartoon flicks. With their bright computerized colors and loud noises and urgent insistence on 3D, you worry that you’ll come out more or less empty-handed, entertainment-wise. That the movie simply will be lame. With low standards in mind, Despicable Me doesn’t disappoint. That is, it’s not really lame at all, and in fact is a handful of entertainment; maybe even more than you might expect going in to a 3D cartoon movie about an aging evil genius (voiced by Steve Carell) doing battle with his pointedly younger, heavily fortified rival (voiced by Jason Segel).
In this new animated flick from Illumination Entertainment, Steve Carell voices a villain named Gru who enlists a squad of powerpuff minions in an evil plot to steal the moon.
Carell’s grumpy Gru is not really evil, of course. He’s just disappointed, frustrated and tired. But he’s also ambitious, and if taking down his nemesis requires the unwitting assistance of three little girls from the local orphanage, so be it. What the otherwise clever curmudgeon fails to consider, however, is that the girls will present their own problems, beginning with a triple threat of wit, heart and darling big eyes.
Aside from his own indifferent mother (voiced by a surprisingly delightful Julie Andrews), Gru doesn’t have much in the way of family. He does have his minions, collectively an adorable (and, yes, merchandisable) horde of slapstick-happy green-yellow gumdrops with eyes (some have only one eye), who do construction work and do each other and themselves much bodily harm. And he has an aged, perpetually goggled laboratory accomplice, Dr. Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand), who, in the manner of James Bond’s Q, supplies his weapons, often mishearing instructions and devising only the most ludicrous and impractical contraptions. (This tendency could make for a good running gag, but it gets neglected, more or less abandoned to the multitudinous cuteness of the minions.)
The movie seems to warm up as it goes. Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, working from a story by executive producer Sergio Pablos, specialize in the brisk and funny business of Gru bringing children into his life. Soon enough the real conflict arises, and it’s pretty much the usual career-versus-family conundrum: He’s got a tight schedule to keep if he’s going to shrink and steal the moon and show the world what he’s really capable of, but those three sweethearts he adopted have a dance recital at the same time. You know how it goes.
It helps a lot that directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin tend more toward the visual than the verbal. They treat Despicable Me as a tidy, stylish exercise, and treat their audience with respect, delivering many properly cartoonish satisfactions.