Directed By: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Released: July 9, 2010
I remember when the first Despicable Me came out, way back in…2010. I can’t tell if that means I’m old or that time flies. What I do know is that since then I have loved this movie. I sometimes turn it on just to enjoy it. Back then I had high hopes for this up and coming, brand new, fresh animation studio called Illumination. My feelings for the studio has…changed, to put it lightly. But does that change how I view this film? I watched it again just to see if the roots of this animation team that isn’t Pixar or Dreamworks holds up as well as I remember, or have I been clouded by nostalgia for those younger, more naive years?
Gru (Steve Carell) is a villain, he isn’t a nice person. He steals (kinda) valuable things and wishes he could reclaim the glory years. But he has aged, and it’s harder to get funding for evil schemes. He wants one last heist though, his dream. To steal…the moon. First, he needs a shrink ray, which was stolen from him by a brand new villain by the name of Vector. So, he must adopt three young girls and infiltrate the lair of Vector (Jason Segel), take back his shrink ray, then fly up to the moon and steal it for himself. It’s the perfect plan.
The three girls he adopts have always dreamed of finding the perfect home that will adopt all three of them. Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), the oldest of the three, takes care of her sisters Edith (Dana Gaiser) and Agnus (Elsie Fisher) and supports their dreams and unique personalities, while still hoping for a loving family as well. Gru adopts all three of them just so he can get his plan into motion, and while the girls quickly realize that this strange man, with an odd dog and a large family of…cousins, isn’t going to give them the perfect home they dreamed of, he still is their new dad.
I have always been endeared to this dynamic, the cold villains hearts begins to thaw the longer he is with the three incredibly sweet girls. He begins to see the value of having fun, how he actually is cool to them. Margo is overly protective and isn’t easy to connect with, but her more edgy sister Edith is enamored with the weapons and secret villains lair Gru lives with, while Agnus finds companionship with the family “dog” and the hundreds (?) of Minons running around. For the beginning of the movies second act Gru is trying to scheme a way away from the girls, but by the end he is laughing and even letting the girls order pizza for dinner. This is all taken away when he realizes his plan won’t work, and in order to accomplish his dreams he must let the girls go.
I have strong feelings about the third act, but I want to put a thumbtack on those thoughts and get to what hasn’t aged well with the film. I really want to know what day at the studio where Steve Corell said “Can I do this accent” and someone said that it was fine. It is apart of the character of Gru now, but it just is so strange. You can’t quite figure out where it comes from, what style he was going for. Romanian? Austrian? Either way, it’s not the best choice.
It’s the most recognizable feature of the film, so no way around it. The Minions spawned an insane following and has created it’s own sub-genre of characters and even their own movie. Earlier this year (2020) Scoob! gave us a similar premise of tiny, incoherent henchmen of the villain. But here, they are tolerable. I honestly don’t think they overstay their welcome, and their antics are just mindless fun. In the later films they over-take the plot and are there just to pad a run time, but in the original they help us understand Gru. The best part of their role within the film is how Gru treats each and every one of them like family. He can discern which Minion did what silly, loud antic just by their squeaky voice. Gru may not want a family (in the beginning) but he understands and values the relationship he has with those around him. While today there is a clear divide in those who hate and love Minions, here they are necessary and actually funny.
Vector is a very forgettable villain, though I believe he was meant to be. He is just a naive kid who happens to be the son of the Banker. Victor, who goes by “Vector”, wants to prove he is a great villain to his father. He is pure comedy, not a single moment of malice from him. Tons of gadget’s, most shot some form of sea life, he’s just trying to one up a much older and “washed up” villain. So in order to do that he steals the shrink ray, lives in a evil lair with shark, and even kidnaps the girls in order to rub it in Gru’s face even more.
So now here we are, the third act. If you haven’t seen Despicable Me and you are reading this, be warned for spoilers…I guess. It’s a decade long film and it’s been meme’d countless times. Gru steals the Moon, accomplishing his life long goal to see it. Once he has it though…it’s meaningless. He had found what he really had been searching for, a family. Gru had promised to see the girls performance of Swan Lake, but missed it to fulfill his own dream. Now he is alone with a tiny Moon. Until he realized that Vector has taken the girls and has a new goal, save them at all costs. What comes next is pretty awesome, storming his way through the front gates of Vectors lair and chasing after his girls.
I’ve always found this last act to be heartwarming. Gru is a different person, someone who used to hurt people for fun is now risking it all to save three little girls. The Margot, Edith and Angus all accept this man as their father. They wouldn’t want anyone else. It feels like a natural progression for the character, and is the correct choice for everyone. Despicable Me ends with everyone finding what they were truly looking for, even if it wasn’t what any of them thought it would be like.
Did Despicable Me hold up after over 10 years? Weirdly enough, and shocking to myself most of all, the answer is yes. I’ve always had a soft spot for children’s movies, there is a fine line you have to walk where you get kids to want to see the movie over and over again with their parents but that means you have to have something adults can connect with in order to say “fine, one more time.” Gru’s progression from villain to hero is fun, though I really wish they had gone with a different accent. I think the three girls are adorable and hold the film together. They have great chemistry with the Minion, who themselves work really well with Gru as their master. There is tons of fun and laughs to be had.
Have you seen Despicable Me? Have I tapped into that nostalgia for simpler times? Or have I awakened that dormant rage for the Minions? Oh no…does that mean I have to review the other films? Maybe other Illumination titles? If you have any suggestions or just want to leave a comment, feel free!