So often in movies, the villain is the most interesting character on the screen. Who needs a boring ol’ hero anyway, especially in the animated film “Despicable Me,” where the villain turns out to be the hero.
OK, so it is a kid’s movie; therefore, our focal bad guy, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), isn’t really all that bad. His nefarious plots mostly involve stealing ridiculous things (like the Time’s Square jumbotron) and his contempt for humanity is roughly as venomous as any radio talk show host. I take that back, he’s not quite that vile.
Carell voices Gru with a vaguely Eastern-European accent that is reminiscent of Boris from the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” But Gru has bigger things on his mind than the hunting of “Moose and Squirrel.” He wants the moon – literally.
He hatches a grand plan to shrink the moon, pluck it from the sky and hold it for ransom. Aiding him in his mission is his old pal Dr. Nefario (a rather straight-laced Russell Brand) and what appears at the first count to be around 30,000 minions.
Gru’s minions often threaten to steal the movie as this army of short, goggled, quasi-competent and easily disposable underlings who live in the vast lair under his house are regularly causing trouble or exploding each other with regular hilarity.
Only one thing stands in Gru’s way, an up and coming rival villain named Vector (Jason Segel), who bears an eerie resemblance to Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates – if Gates were ever to sport an orange jumpsuit.
Vector has stolen Gru’s shrink ray and our villain’s various attempts to retrieve it play out like the old Mad Magazine comic “Spy vs. Spy.”
Gru realizes the only way he can gain access to Vector’s compound is with the help of three orphan girls selling cookies door-to-door. He quickly adopts the girls for the sake of his sinister plan and this is where the heart of the movie gets revealed as the girls change Gru’s life in ways he never counted on.
While that last sentence makes “Despicable Me” sound a little too touchy-feely, what makes the movie so effective is that it never betrays the characters for the sake of emotional manipulation or a cheap laugh.
Gru is still a villain, a cartoony, over-the-top villain, but a villain nonetheless. His affection for the girls develops in a relatively believable way and we even get a glimpse into his own psychological issues thanks to some browbeating from his overbearing mother (voiced by Julie Andrews).
But all that serious stuff aside, “Despicable Me” is a lot of fun and filled with laughs. The minions made me giggle throughout and even though this movie is 100 percent family-friendly, it is just subversive enough to give it an edge. Let’s be honest, most of us won’t be able to hold back a vicarious grin when Gru uses his freeze ray to zap the people ahead of him in line at the coffee shop. The animation style is lively and the use of 3D is extremely effective, especially during the closing credits when the minions attempt to see who can reach the farthest into the audience.
While the themes of the movie are ultimately older than time itself, the premise is fresh and original enough to hold even the most jaded parent’s interest.
Bad guys have had to toil away in the shadows of popular entertainment for far too long and it’s nice to finally see them get their due. Being bad never looked so good.
“Despicable Me” is rated PG for rude humor and mild action.