Despicable Me is a good movie about a bad guy who becomes good in a bad way. Illumination is a computer animation company that sort of snuck up on everyone in the 2010’s. Unlike Pixar, DreamWorks, or Blue Sky Animation, I didn’t give their first film a chance. The Universal owned Illumination was founded by former Fox and Blue Sky producer Chris Meledandri with the intention of being kid friendly and cost effective. I was 15 at the time, and Despicable Me looked a little too childish for me.
I distinctly remember mistaking it for the very similar Megamind the first time I saw a trailer. Both 2010 movies are about a likeable bad guy and his minion(s) committing larger than life crimes, but ultimately learning to be a better person. We saw Megamind in theaters for its superhero angle and DreamWorks name recognition, but my brother and I didn’t have enough interest in Despicable Me to see it in theaters. Little did we know how much of a phenomenon Despicable Me and the Minions would end up being…
Despicable Me seems so simple compared to the rest of the franchise. The computer animation is good, but not what I’d call top tier. Despicable Me is cartoony with very stylized character designs. The main villain turned hero is the aptly named Felonious Gru. Though he can be referred to as a supervillain, Despicable Me is more Bond than Superman. So Gru’s look is more Blofeld than Lex Luthor. Gru has an oddly shaped body, a long pointy nose, bald head, and an all-black outfit complete with fancy scarf. Steve Carell took a break from The Office to create another iconic character. Carell disappears into the role with an undefinable European accent.
Like most diabolical villains, Gru has a super obvious evil lair, a rocket-powered car, and a FREEZE RAY! He’s even given his own catchy villain song by Pharrell Williams. Gru is joined by a monster “dog” named Kyle, his elderly associate Dr. Nefario voiced by a very unrecognizable Russell Brand, and the Minions. Honestly, it’s not hard to see why the Minions became so iconic. They’re like cute little pieces of yellow corn wearing blue overalls and goggles. Every Minion has a name and is distinguished by their height, size, or number of eyes. Like many studio mascots, the Minions are all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin speaking a made up Minionese language that sounds like gibberish, but includes words like “Banana!”
The Minions are the biggest comic relief, but they rarely affect the plot. Their antics mostly include a trip to the store and a running gag where a Minion drinks an anti-gravity serum and continues to float throughout the movie. Of course the Minions were given the spotlight in 3 short films called Home Makeover, Orientation Day, and Banana. Some of the humor comes from civilians acting like Gru’s villainy is normal, but most of the jokes are reliant on potty humor and other childish gags. Like Dr. Nefario mistaking a dart gun for a fart gun.
Yet somehow Despicable Me ended up a lot more heartfelt than it sounds. Gru’s primary goal is proving himself as a great villain by literally stealing the moon. Something he hopes will impress his disapproving mother with the unlikely voice of Julie Andrews. Most of the cast consists of fellow comedians. Will Arnett voices Mr. Perkins, the President of the Bank of Evil who reluctantly loans Gru money to fund his plot to steal the moon. The problem is Mr. Perkins happens to be the father of Gru’s sworn rival Vector. A geeky rich brat voiced by Jason Segel who upstages Gru by stealing the Pyramids in the opening scene. Vector has his own much fancier evil lair complete with sharks.
When Vector steals a shrink ray, Gru hatches a plan to steal it by adopting a trio of unassuming orphans who can infiltrate his house by selling cookies. Kristen Wiig voices the cruel head of the orphanage Miss Hattie who flirts with Gru and lets him adopt the girls. Though they’re between the ages of 5 & 10, Margo, Edith, and Agnes are notable for having old lady names. Margo is the level-headed older one who wears glasses. Miranda Cosgrove voiced Margo between episodes of iCarly. Edith is the tomboy middle child who mostly wears pink. The lesser known Dana Gaier only got the part by accompanying her sister to an audition. Agnes is the adorable youngest sister who loves fluffy unicorns. Elsie Fisher made her film debut at only 6 years old.
Gru sees the girls as a means to an end, but the movie’s heart comes from him eventually caring for them. His softer side comes out at a carnival and after reading a bedtime story. The Minions also start to care for the girls, but Dr. Nefario keeps Gru focused on the mission. They build a rocket and steal the moon, but Gru realizes being a dad is more important and heads to their dance recital instead. The climax is crazy and defies the laws of physics when Gru rescues the girls from Vector and they become a family. Though it sounded like a generic kids movie on the surface, Despicable Me ended up being a surprise hit.
Followed by: Despicable Me 2