Beginning in December 2005 with my history of apes in film essay “Gorilla of Your Dreams” (the substantially update and revised version appears in The Apes of Wrath), I regularly contributed to Moving Pictures Magazine. First in the print incarnation and then for primarily the website. I contributed reviews and essays for the last three years of the publications existence. Following the June 2011 demise of both the print and website editions, all of the digital work for MPM disappeared into the ether. In the coming months (years?), I plan on reposting many of my reviews and articles.
Another geeky review. This time of the surprisingly clever Despicable Me.
Review by Rick Klaw
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul from a story by Sergio Pablos
Starring Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, and Russel Brand
The first feature from Illumination Entertainment, founded in 2008 by former 20th Century Fox Animation president Chris Meledandri, Despicable Me exceeds the quality of the initial offerings from other successful post-Pixar animation studios, Dreamworks (Antz) and Blue Sky (Ice Age). The charming 3-D film pits legendary super criminal Gru (Steve Carrell) against next generation villain Vector (Jason Segel) in a game of oneupmanship.
After the greatest heist in history—of the Great Pyramid of Giza—by parties unknown, despondent Gru, plans to steal the moon as his return to greatness. Cleverly hiding his secret headquarters deep beneath a suburban home, Gru delights in tormenting his neighbors. He routinely uses his freeze ray gun on them, runs over their shrubs with his souped up trademark super vehicle, and basically behaves boorishly. Aided by mad scientist Dr. Nefario (Russel Brand doing his best “Q” impersonation), and array of nefarious gadgets including a shrink ray, robotic cookies, and an army of mischievous little minions, things progress as planned until Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), three orphaned girls from Miss Hattie’s Home For Girls, show up selling cookies, throwing his life and plans into utter chaos.
The fast-moving, funny script, crafted by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (co-scripters of Horton Hears a Who) from a story by Sergio Pablos, slides dangerously close to the maudlin and at times, the nauseatingly cute. The Gremlins-inspired minions bring both a heavy dose of the saccharin combined with a much-appreciated chaos. These tiny, genetically-engineered yellow creatures successfully elevate this standard curmudgeon-saved-by-adorable-children plot from its humdrum origins into a movie littered with clever moments. The modern day Dickensian girls, straight from central casting and perfectly voiced by Cosgrove, Gaier, and Fisher, heap on both the sweetness and cynicism. Their interactions with the minions deliver some of the film’s most memorable sequences.
Smartly, the tale includes several non-essential and surprisingly topical adult references that only serve to entertain the post-pubescent members of the audience. For example. when Gru approaches the self-styled Bank of Evil for a loan for his villainy, the bank placard reads “Bank of Evil” and in smaller type below “formerly Lehman Brothers.”
Unlike the 3-D in Toy Story 3, which felt more like an affectation, the 21st century movie theater panacea plays an integral role within Despicable Me. The 3-D enhances the already top notch animation and the dynamic action scenes.
While not the finest animated feature of the summer, Despicable Me promises an entertaining, exciting romp for the whole family. Go for the popcorn, the AC, and the film, but be sure to stay through the credits for more minion madness.