Despicable Me: Not Quite Pixar

9 Jul

Pixar is the Tiger Woods of animated family films. Well Tiger Woods minus an image shattering sex addiction. Basically, Pixar holds the Boardwalk and Park Place of CGI’d family goodness. But like all #1’s, challengers will emerge to knock you off your throne. I’m not saying that Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment is the heir apparent to the Pixar throne, but their first shot,  Despicable Me,  shows promise.

Steve Carell does the Germanic/Russian voice for anti-hero Gru, whose fall from villainous grace leads him to concoct a plan to shrink and steal the moon. Not that plot matters much as Despicable Me shoots a straight line from rising action to conclusion.  But when you’ve got a cast of humorously quotable or straight up cute characters, you just don’t notice the weakness in story, as much.

It’s actually a pretty legit cast of voices that includes Jason Segel as Gru’s evil competition Vector, crazy British comedian Russel Brand as Dr. Nefario and the sound of music herself, Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother. Not that you’d really know it was any of there voices. Honestly, even the secondary voices are recognizable movie and TV stars including Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Kristen Wiig (SNL), Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder) and Jermaine Clement (The Flight of the Concords), as Jerry the Minion. Again, not that you’d know that it was any of them.

The lovable, and hilarious yellow Simpson’s like minions steal most of the movie. They’ve got that it quality that only animated characters can pull off. You never really understand what they’re saying, where they came from or what exactly they bring to Gru’s evil industry, but they’re the elves to Gru’s villainous Santa.

The complicating factor that takes this movie from being a reverse Incredibles situation is three orphans Margo, Edith and Agnes, which Gru needs to steal the shrink ray from Vector. The children who he wants to use as pawns, begin to worm there way into his heart. yadda yadda.

The sentimentality of Gru’s transition is what tips you off to the movies true failing, it’s trying to hard.  The humor is there but sporadically, and heavily reliant upon the physical ridiculousness and silliness of the characters, rather than attempting some version of animated whit. But when you feel close to the accepting the pure humor of Gru and his band of witless villains they throw you sad looking orphans.

It’s not that I don’t understand why you’d want an animated family film to have a warm and cuddly story line, but you’ve got to see that character development through just a little bit. You really go from semi-inept but humorous super-villain to Tim Allen without any kind of change-of-heart-moment.  Not that any kid would notice or care; but that’s what separates Pixar from the rest, there actually trying to make a complete film not just a family movie.

Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin; written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, based on a story by Sergio Pablos. With characters voiced by : Steve Carell (Gru), Jason Segel (Vector), Russell Brand (Dr. Nefario), Julie Andrews (Gru’s Mom), Kristen Wiig (Miss Hattie), Will Arnett (Mr. Perkins), Danny McBride (Fred McDade), Jemaine Clement (Jerry the Minion), Miranda Cosgrove (Margo), Jack McBrayer (Carnival Barker/Tourist Dad), Dana Gaier (Edith), and Elsie Fisher (Agnes). Produced by Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy and John Cohen.  Released by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.

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