Steve Carell is a dastardly super-villain who succumbs to the cuteness of three little girls in Despicable Me, a fun rompy cartoon.
Gru (voice of Steve Carell) is a villain with big aspirations. He has an underground lair full of minions — squeaky-voiced one- or two-eyed helpers that look like the offspring of Sponge Bob and a pencil eraser — as well as an elderly second-in-command known as Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand). Gru's next big villainous plan is to shrink, steal and ransom the moon. But for that to happen, the villain-funding Bank of Evil will need to help Gru with some financing, and they currently have their eyes on Vector (Jason Segel), a young, villain-on-the-rise vaguely Bill-Gates-resembling nerd who has just pulled off an attention-getting theft of an Egyptian pyramid. And worse, Vector has the shrink ray Gru will need to accomplish the shrinking portion of his moon-stealing plan. Vector's house is well protected with an assortment of gadgetry — how will Gru get past it? As it turns out, Vector has a fondness for cookies, like the ones being sold by tween Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), adventurous eight-ish-year-old Edith (Dana Gaier) and the cutesiness-obsessed little Agnes (Elsie Fisher). The girls are orphans selling cookies for the orphanage headmistress, Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig), who gives Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glen Ross a run for his always-be-cookie-selling money. Gru realizes that if he adopts the orphans, he'll be able to help them deliver cookies (or perhaps, security system-foiling robots shaped like cookies) to Vector.
Mwah ha ha ha ha.
Except, of course, that Agnes with her Three Little Kittens book and Edith with her boisterous troublemaking and even suspicious Margo quickly distract Gru from his moon-stealing plans. Soon he's enjoying story-times and taking them to an amusement park and even looking forward to their upcoming ballet recital.
Despicable Me is not the searing examination of life and death and childhood and emotion that Toy Story 3 was — which, thank goodness, because how many times can you sob over a cartoon in one summer? It is, however, delightfully light and fun. While it has a few moments of "here's one for the adults" humor — a joke about Lehman Brothers was well received — I liked its other moments of silliness and sweetness (Vector "hides" the pyramid in his backyard, camouflaged to look like the sky; Gru has his own Toy Story moment while reading the Three Little Kittens book). While Gru and Vector might be locked in a generational villainy struggle, there is little scariness and lots of surprisingly fun, cartoony moments with the minions. It's kind of like reminding yourself, after years of serious graphic novel readership, that a comic strip can be good for a laugh. Despicable Me reminds you that in addition to being a legitimate artistic story-telling medium, animation can still offer cartoon goofiness.
Despicable Me is yet another 3-D entry in the animation library and yet another example of its tasteful, clever use to the point that you can probably live without it. There is a neat bit on a roller coaster that probably is at its best when viewed through the glasses but otherwise the cheery images and silly characters offer enough laughs and adventure no matter what dimension they're in. B+.
Rated PG for rude humor and mild action. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and written by Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos and Cinco Paul, Despicable Me is an hour and 35 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, July 9. It is distributed by Universal Pictures.