Saturday, June 29, 2013

Stubs - Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010) Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel. Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Jemaine Clement, Jack McBrayer, Julie Andrews. Directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. Produced by Chris Meladandri, John Cohen, Janet Healy. Screenplay by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio. Original Story by Sergio Pablos. Run Time: 95 minutes. U.S.  Color. Animated, Crime, Comedy

The Summer of Reboots and Sequels, at least the 2013 version, continues, but for a change there is a sequel that I’m actually looking forward to, the follow up to Despicable Me, aptly named Despicable Me 2. And as with any sequel/reboot it’s always nice to remind yourself why you’re looking forward to it, by going back and re-watching the original.

When I first went to see the first film in a theater, I didn’t go in with great expectations. While I appreciate Steve Carell, I can’t say I’m a major fan of his and Mac Guff, a French CGI Animation studio acquired by Illumination Entertainment, had never made a film before. But the inaugural pairing of the two turned out to be a very funny animated feature that appeals to a wide audience.

The film opens with the world realizing that the Great Pyramid of Giza has been stolen. The world wonders which super villain took it. The answer is not Gru (Steve Carell), who decides to top the crime by shrinking and stealing the moon, a plan he announces to his Minions, several hundred or possibly thousands of genetically altered yellow creatures who talk in a giggly language that sometimes sounds like English.

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is a super villain.
Though the announcement seems sudden, Gru promises his Minions that he and his partner, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), have been planning this theft for some time. In fact, Gru’s fascination with the moon goes back to his own childhood, when his mother, Marlena (Julie Andrews), was never supportive.

Even when Gru builds a working rocket, his mom is unimpressed.
But like any business venture, stealing the moon takes capital. And like any other small businessman, Gru goes to the bank to get a loan. But he doesn’t go to just any bank, instead it’s the Bank of Evil run by Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett). But despite being impressed by Gru’s planning, Perkins wants him to get the Shrink Ray Gru’ll need first before he’ll give him the money.

Mr. Perkins, the President of the Bank of Evil, looks a lot like Dilbert's boss.
Stealing the Shrink Ray from a secret base in Asia (which I took to be North Korea) was easy, but Vector (Jason Segel), an up and coming super villain, quickly steals it from Gru. And Gru tries to steal it back from Vector’s fortress, but is defeated by several booby traps Vector has planted around his home. (In a nice touch, The Giza Pyramid, painted to look like the sky, stands right behind the fortress.)  However,despite the problems he’s having, Gru notices three orphan girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) have no trouble gaining access to sell cookies.

Vector Perkins with the Shrink Ray. I think he looks a little like Bill Gates.
The light bulb goes off for Gru and he decides to adopt the girls. Using fake credentials as a dentist, Gru goes to Miss Hattie’s (Kristen Wiig) Home for Girls. Miss Hattie is all too happy to get rid of the three and despite the references, being typed in by the minions, readily agrees. But Gru’s house is not a place for girls and he has no interest in being a parent. The girls for their part know the hardships of Miss Hattie’s and are willing to put up with a lot of bad parenting in return, just as long as they get to attend their ballet class.

Edith, Margo and Agnes, three orphans who change Gru's world.
Using the girls as a front, Gru and a couple of his minions gain access to the vault with the shrink ray, utilizing cookie-shaped robots that shoot lasers. But the cookie-robots also trap Gru inside the vault and he and his minions make a narrow escape.

On the way back to his home, the girls see Funland, a seaside theme park, and beg Gru to take them. He agrees, thinking he can dump the girls there now that he no longer has any use for them. But the attendant at the roller coaster tells Gru the girls can’t ride with an adult and so he’s trapped. He finds himself having a good time and bonding with the three. What puts him over the top is the treatment they get from a shady carnival barker (Jack McBrayer) who runs a rigged shooting game. In order to get revenge, Gru blasts a hole in the back of the stand. And Agnes, who is unicorn-obsessed, wins the stuffed animal she craves.

The girls trying to win a fluffy unicorn, but the game is rigged.
Back home, Gru contacts Perkins by video-conferencing to show him that he’s got the shrink ray. The girls have messed with his presentation, but that isn’t the reason Perkins denies him funding in favor of the younger Vector, who just happens to be Perkins’ son, Victor.

Word gets around the minions that the bank has denied funding and Gru confirms that the rumors are true and that the moon theft is off. But when Margo, Edith and Agnes offer the meager contents of their piggy bank, the minions throw in money too and the caper is back on. The only problem is that the date they’ve selected conflicts with a ballet recital the girls will be in.

Dr. Nefario doesn’t like the time Gru is spending with the girls and their interfering with their plans, so he calls Miss Hattie to say Gru has changed his mind. And despite his not liking the situation, Gru doesn’t fight it. At about the same time, Mr. Perkins informs his son, Vector, what Gru is up to. Vector tries to tag along, but Gru thwarts him and steals the moon, but arrives back too late for the recital.

Vector isn’t done. He kidnaps the girls and will exchange them for the moon. It’s an exchange Gru   agrees to, but which Vector renegs on. Angered, Gru easily defeats the sort of booby traps that stopped him the first time. Fearing Gru, Vector uses part of his fortress as an escape pod with the girls and the moon.

Dr. Nefario has meanwhile discovered that the effects of the shrink ray are only temporary and that the bigger the object the quicker it will return to normal size. The moon is already starting to resize and in a daring mid-air rescue, Gru, Dr. Nefario and the minions rescue the girls from Vector’s ship.  The moon meanwhile explodes to original size and takes up its orbit around the Earth with one new inhabitant, Vector, trapped on its surface.

Gru readopts the girls and they are a family once again. The girls perform their ballet for Gru, his mother and the minions. Everyone ends up dancing, even Vector on the surface of the moon.

Now this is not a G rated film. It’s right there in the rating reason, rude humor. It’s as if filmmakers can’t help but put in a few references to bodily functions for the supposed laughs they generate. Again this appeal to the lowest common denominator doesn’t seem to be ebbing any time soon. In the case of Despicable Me, Gru asks Dr. Nefario to build him a dart gun, which Nefario, being old and hard of hearing, mistakes for a fart gun. I’ll pause while you laugh out loud at the humorous images this no doubt brings to mind (or see below)...Ready to continue? … All right. While I’ll give this one to the creators, what they didn’t really need was a drawing of Gru on the toilet that the three orphans supposedly placed in the middle of his presentation to Mr. Perkins. I’m always a little disappointed when people find going to the bathroom all that funny. But there you have it, my complaints with the film.

Some of the rude humor. Dr. Nefario misunderstood Gru's request for a Dart Gun.
Otherwise, the humor is pretty tame, with the bulk of it coming from the Minions and even though some of them are actually named and voiced by the directors,  Pierre Coffin voices Tim, Mark, Bob, Phil and Stuart; and Chris Renaud voices Dave, Billy and Larry (someone named Jemiane Clement is credited with voicing Kevin and Jerry), one minion pretty much looks like another minion as we learn in Orientation, a short included with the movie on the Blu Ray disc, all the minions are genetically related. The minions are sort of like adult children and it is their reaction and participation in the events of the film that much of the humor comes from. Depending on the task they are given, minions can be scared children or ninja like warriors. But they all seem to share a radical devotion to Gru and treat him like a father-figure/rock star (I’m sure Mick Jagger gets similar treatment when he’s at home.)

Minions hang on every word Gru says.
The film also has fun with the depths of Gru's villainy, which is tantamount to a wading pool. In the beginning of the film, we see him cheer up a little boy whose ice cream has fallen on the pavement, by making him a balloon animal. And then once the kid is all happy, Gru pops the balloon. Next, he uses a freeze ray to get to the front of the line at a coffee shop. He's a super villain but he uses evil in small ways and ultimately, we find out, has a heart of gold.

I don’t usually think much about the music in movies, unless it’s obviously important to the story (musicals, etc.), but I think Pharrell Williams’ songs really add to the film, especially Gru’s theme, “Despicable Me”, and “Fun, Fun, Fun” which accompanies the scenes at Funland. The music Williams and Heitor Pereira wrote for the actual soundtrack also adds some really nice touches throughout the film.

Having "Fun, Fun, Fun" at Funland.
I always think it’s hard to judge voice acting. I know it can be bad, but it’s hard to know when it’s good. Carell, Segel, Brand, et al all do good work, but with the exception of Carell, I really didn’t pick up on who was doing which part until I read the credits. Maybe that says something about me, or that the voices seemed to go really well with the characters so they weren’t noticeable. That is not to say Carell doesn’t do a good job. For an actor with a tendency to sometimes go too far, his Gru is just right.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone with children older than seven or anyone that just wants to have good time. I only hope that this isn’t a case of beginner’s luck. I haven’t seen the studio’s other offerings, Hop (2011) and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2012), neither of which appealed to me, based on trailers and commercials that I saw. But I’m hoping to really enjoy Despicable Me 2 and have high hopes for Minions coming in 2014.

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