Despicable Me is a surprisingly violent animated movie that suffers from being released within a few weeks of Toy Story 3. Where Toy Story 3 has warm characters who seek to do well by each other, Despicable Me is populated by characters who constantly hurt each other, as the filmmakers clearly sought a cheap laugh and tried to string together a series of hit-or-miss sight gags.
The story has Gru (voice of Steve Carell trying to sound Russian) as an evil mastermind, ensconced in suburbia. Beneath his house is a vast subterranean lair where he’s plotting to (insert evil laugh) commit the perfect crime. He’s created little yellow creatures known as minions, and while they have some amusing scenes, they treat each other in a slapstick violent manner that really got on my nerves and was far too aggressive for a children’s film.
Gru learns that his nemesis Vector ( Jason Segel) has stolen the Great Pyramid and is determined to regain the title of most evil criminal. He comes up with a plan to steal the moon. To fund his efforts, he goes to the Bank of Evil seeking a loan, just to bump into Vector, and the Spy-vs-Spy competition is on.
Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) are orphans, living at the Dickensian Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls. Miss Hattie (voice of Kristen Wiig) is a shrew and forces them to go door-to-door selling cookies and meeting their daily quota. If they don’t, they’re banished to a cardboard box, “The Box of Shame,” for hours. That’s supposed to be funny?
When they knock on the door to Vector’s lair, he’s delighted to buy cookies from them, which Gru observes. His plan to infiltrate Vector’s lair? Adopt the girls, have them deliver robot cookies, then return the girls to Miss Hattie’s. A suitably despicable and evil plan, no question, and it works perfectly.
What Gru doesn’t count on was the innocence and sweetness of the girls, who conclude post-adoption that he’s their new Dad and pour on the love and wide-eyed adoration. Gru’s Mom (voice of Julie Andrews) has never shown him any affection, so he’s not prepared for it, as we learn in a series of scenes that vary from quite funny to fairly painfully unamusing.
The script-writing team clearly had a lot of fun slipping in gags. The Bank of Evil has a sign that says, “formerly Lehman Brothers.” When Gru says goodnight to the girls, he reminds them, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite: there are thousands of them and probably something in your closet, too.” And there’s a running joke of minions misunderstanding what Gru says and inventing the wrong weapon. “No, I said dart gun!” was one of my favorites.
What really upset me was the non-stop level of violence that the characters exhibited towards each other. I realize that’s part of the story, the “comic book slapstick violence,” but I was startled how each time a character would punch, kick, push, shoot or otherwise hurt another, the audience would laugh. That’s not my idea of a good kids film.
I left the film disappointed, and I wouldn’t take my children to see it. At one point I felt the urge to walk out, even as everyone else in the audience was laughing and clearly enjoying the movie. Your experience will undoubtedly vary, but I didn’t like Despicable Me much at all.