Despicable Me, a film that has far more heart than the advance promotions suggest, is this year's Up. It never reaches the heart- tugging levels of Up, but the serious side of Despicable Me is what makes it an entertaining animation experience and not just a mindless cartoon.
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who comes across like a distant cousin of Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame and Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, loves being the most notorious bad guy on the planet. When it looks as if that title is about to be stolen by an upstart named Vector (Jason Segel), Gru comes up with the ultimate evil plot: steal the moon.
The only hitch is he needs the help of three orphan girls — Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier) — to make the plan work. Gru adopts the girls.
The film nicely blends Gru's growing parental side with his evil deeds — giving it those emotional elements that come as such a surprise.
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Many actors make the mistake of going way over the top when delivering lines for animated characters. Carell does a great job of modulating his voice, which makes it feel more real than cartoonish. That's particularly noticeable when Gru reluctantly reads a bedtime story to the girls.
Despicable Me has a few small problems. The screenplay wanders in the opening moments that establish the characters. Once the story settles down, the film has a very funny linear direction that's accented by a wide variety of bodily function jokes. Who among us won't laugh at seeing a punch to the groin?
Even when the story seems a little jumbled, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud keep things moving with crisp animation, a quick tempo and a continuous barrage of jokes. (They've also created a movie for which the 3-D is worth the extra cost.)
Despicable Me mixes playground humor with a sweet story of family. Instead of despicable, it's very pickable.