"Despicable Me" Pleasingly Complex for a Kids' Movie

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Even villainy has its share of routine downsides. Competition. Politics. The difficulty finding good help. The usual stuff. Don’t forget, villains are people too. They have hopes, parents, and bills to pay, just like the rest of us. Despicable Me gives us one such villain, Gru (Steve Carell), and he has his hands full.

His lastest exploits haven’t been quite that impressive, and there’s a certain new kid on the block who has stolen a pyramid. That’s the big time. There’s no reason to fear, though, because Gru has a plan he’s been working on for quite some time, and the time is finally ripe for his greatest crime, stealing the Moon!!!

All he has to do is get a loan from the bank for a little working capital so he can build his rocket, and he’ll be set. Of course, there is a small snag there. The bank is rather tired of his less-than-profitable efforts, and he’s going to have to complete phase one of his plan before he gets any money. Phase one is lifting the shrink ray that will make his caper possible.

When that upstart criminal Vector steals the shrink ray from Gru, he needs a way to get it back. He stumbles on the cunning plan of using three orphan girls to gain access to Vector’s secret lair, and the game is afoot.

Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith, and Agnes have been in there selling cookies already, and Gru figures he can prepare a little surprise when it’s time to deliver.

Events follow the chain we may expect, with cute girls upsetting plans and generally causing distraction, but several elements move Despicable Me to a higher level of family film than we may believe possible from an ultimately straight-forward, cookie-cutter plot.

It’s truly hilarious for a start (my nine-year-old was rolling), and it’s a particularly clever sense of humor… well, all things considered. More importantly, it delivers on its premise to a far greater degree than your average excuse to whip out an animated adventure. “‘Evil’ meets hopelessly cute, hilarity ensues,” is a good pitch, but one that doesn’t automatically have a lot of complexity built into it. Blending great comedy with a storyline that actually lets the character backgrounds, motivations, and relationships coalesce into something that can actually make good on the ending is something you don’t see all that often these days, animated film or no.

I know, it sounds rather grandiose for a zany, animated flick with countless minions who gibber all the time, and look like giant, yellow caplets. It is, but pulling out the results we get here is that kind of impressive.

That said, I have a certain prejudice against films that go too far in their “by committee” design. It might be hard to escape in this day and age, and it is a family film after all, but Despicable Me is so obvious about it that it kills a bit of the joy it creates. Writing by way of filling in the great flowchart of movie plots just isn’t the same game, even if you wind up with the best thing so created.

Still, the laughs mostly win out, and the fact that you get to watch something by people who understand the idea of getting comedy to do some work is easily worth the time.

Rating: ★★★★☆