I’ll drop everything to go and see an animated feature, especially if it’s in three entire dimensions AND there is a first-person point of view rollercoaster scene in the ad. So there were preview screenings on during the weekend, and I was there, frantically booking online, assuming the movie would be sold out (in reality, there were only about thirty people in the gigantic cinema, which just meant there were less people to make fun of me when I started squeaking uncontrollably during said rollercoaster scene and flapped my arms about.)
The movie opens with the most unexpected and daring theft known to man—someone has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza and replaced it with an inflatable replica. Watching this on the news is Gru (Steve Carrell), our villain (er, I mean hero) and someone who is incredibly jealous of this large-scale bit of stealing. Gru gathers his minions, a stack of yellow, pint-sized, unintelligible beings kitted out in permanent goggles and blue overalls, and declares that they will steal something even bigger and more amazing than some measly pyramid. When his plan doesn’t exactly work out—thanks to new villain on the block, Vector (Jason Segel)—the only way to remedy the situation involves Gru adopting three little orphan girls who sell irresistible cookies.
Gru’s lack of parenting ability means that Margo, Edith and Agnes are not welcomed with open arms in his house, but instead served with pet bowls of lollies and water, offered some newspaper for wee-wee and poop, and told not to touch anything. Of course, they’re precocious and adorable, so they ignore his wishes, get in his way, smash up his experiments, befriend all the minions, and, unsurprisingly, steal Gru’s heart.
Now, after some consideration, I’ve realised that I should be rating movies. Not by stars, because reviews are opinions and stars try to make it an exact science, but, stealing from school reports, these three options: Below Expectations, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations. Because the reason I’ll pan a critically acclaimed work of art but then act like The A-Team is a masterpiece of modern cinema is because I have certain expectations for what I’m going to see, and that heavily influences my opinion. And Despicable Me did an easy job of getting my first rating: Meets Expectations. Because it’s fun, and funny, and was utterly predictable but that’s okay, because it’s a kid’s movie, and you don’t want the surprise twist to have everyone living unhappily ever after or maimed in the over-the-top explosions, scarring your small child (or inner child) for life. Despicable Me is very much aimed at children, but still entertaining for adults. Some of the jokes almost made me pee my pants, and the 3D was excellent, and any scenes involving too much parent-related love had me shuffling through my handbag for tissues because I’m a big sook. It was good, you should see it.
But it didn’t exceed my expectations. The leap from Gru intent on abandoning the girls at a theme park to reading them bedtime stories and ignoring his devious plans to play with them was basically played out in a couple of minutes of montage that didn’t really explain why someone who had previously popped a kid’s balloon for the lulz was suddenly up for Father of the Year. I knew it was going to happen, that Gru would adore the children, but I couldn’t follow his train of thought. Gru had some flashbacks to his own childhood, with his cold mother (Julie Andrews) breaking his heart consistently; he was also heavily influenced by father-figure/elderly batty scientist Dr Nefario (Russell Brand), who did not like the disruption the children caused and campaigned for them to go. These did add some depth to Gru’s emotions towards family, but still, not enough. It also consistently frustrates me that big-name celebrities continue to be cast for voice work in movies when a) kids don’t give a toss about them most of the time—how many five-year-olds could point out Russell Brand in a line-up?—and b) they’re not actually voice actors. Steve Carell wasn’t completely terrible as Russian-accented Gru, but instead of having him trying so hard to not be Ah-merican that he sounded like he was literally chewing on the words sometimes, why didn’t they, I don’t know, hire a) an actor who specialises in accents or b) an actual Russian actor, god forbid. Russell Brand was fine, though not much of a stretch, as a British scientist, and serial nudist Jason Segel was also passable yet bland as pyjama-wearing villain Vector. And while it was pretty funny, is it entirely necessary to include a dance scene at the end of every animated movie just to watch all the characters dance in an amusing fashion? It’s been done and I am clearly an old fuddy-duddy who is sick of it.
But it was all a good laugh, with some fantastic scenes (Agnes winning a unicorn and screaming, “IT’S SO FLUFFY!” will make you fall off your chair, Gru laboriously reading the book “Sleepy Kittens” is wonderful, and the minions are always a hoot) and a lovely happy realistic moral which is something like “family should come before destroying the world”.
In summary: Meets Expectations
(Please note I had trouble finding an accurate movie poster for this review—it’s actually out September 9 here in Australia. And also, there’s nothing at the end of the credits, though as the cinema kindly didn’t turn on the house lights I did discover it gets very dark in a theatre once the movie has ended and there’s no lights to guide you down the stairs.)