This new quality family animation is less subtle when it comes to 3D, benefitting from its characters, story and visuals.
Despicable Me features the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig and is a worthy, more modestly-budgeted rival to studios who've produced wonderful fare like Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon. It's not of the ilk of all those pop-culture references, though there are nods to a famous TV network with a peacock and the big-budgeted Armageddon. As well as Annie and Jaws and "one small step for man" moon landing as the filmmakers nicely jab at American idealism and cultural stereotypes.
From a story by Sergio Pablos, scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio efficiently provide a variation on The Incredibles and the "Spy vs. Spy" from Mad magazine with a weirdly churlish suave supervillain in the hunchbacked Gru, voiced with Russian accent by Carell (Date Night). In his underground hideaway within a suburban white-picked fence genial neighborhood, he has plenty of gadgets and a large contingent of assistants in fluorescent yellow "minions".
Gru's dastardly plan literally has him going for the moon when another megalomaniac has grabbed Giza's Great Pyramid. His wild scheme involves stuff like freeze and shrink rays as he "adopts" cookie-selling orphans in Margo (teen recording artist Miranda Cosgrove), an impertubable Agnes (Elsie Fisher), and Edith (Dana Gaier) coming from a Home For Girls run by hard-nosed Miss Hattie (Wiig). Gru has met his match in those who are in need of more than a father-figure and start to make him rethink his evil intent.
The sensible, if somewhat unoriginal and finally predictable, tale contextualizes Gru's nefarious exploits when it comes those really important to him like his mother (Julie Andrews, heard in a different, colder vein here through flashbacking). Brand (who reprised his vainglorious, addled Aldous Snow in "Get Him to the Greek") is recognizable as Gru's other abettor Dr. Nefario, reminiscient of a doctor named Strangelove.
The chief tension arises as Gru manipulates Agnes, Edith and Margo to encroach the den of the venomous pyramid-plotting Vector (Segel) as directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin (who voice most of the odd one-eyed and two-eyed minions) swiftly illuminate the proceedings without the rich photorealism audiences have been accustomed to noticing. The colorful creativity, sprightly old-school at times, extends to a rocket blasting into outer space and Rube Goldberg-like contraptions.
Though it may be harder to market stateside than abroad, Despicable Me is able to engage boys and girls (who'll like this diverse, tenacious trio) and is bolstered by some distinguished efforts by the special effects Mac Guff in a refined way. The production also scores from the hip-hop intonations of a brisk spy thriller like Mission: Impossible as the music and theme song are catchy. An amusing running gag includes the ingestion of Gru's potions by one of the minions.
A vocally sharp and sinister Carell has the means to capture like an Anton Ego and some of the great 007 adversaries of yesterday, to comedic effect, as gags abound in many scenes that may prompt a return visit to a neighborhood multiplex. For one it helps to be a little fluent in Spanish, but for many just watching the minions and their gibberish is more than enough amusement for something this bright, pert and cognizant of family values. And, the 3D effect in the closing credits with critters with folks beginning to exit with or without houselights prompt more laughter.