DVD Review: Despicable Me

Sometimes it seems you can’t go more than a couple of weeks without another CGI kids movie appearing on the advert streams of television, either on the big screen or coming to the small. And sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart, outside of the big franchises, especially once you factor in the number that somehow seem to come out in a suspiciously narrow window with suspiciously similar themes, a tradition that goes back to Dreamworks’ Antz and Pixar’s A Bug Life. And more to the point, unless it has that magical mark of quality, a bouncing Angle-poise lamp on the front of the film, how can you tell if it’s any good? Well by watching it, of course!


So, Despicable Me arrives into this overcrowded field as the story of Mad Scientist Gru (Steve Carrell) and his attempt to achieve his great final heist. Gru, for all his giant lab, hordes on minions – more of which later – and collection of ray cannons is at heart a loveable loser, with little sense of menace or evil outside of a general desire to hold the world to random in no small part, it is implied, to get more attention from his mum.

Mind you, his arch-nemesis is a bit of a loser too; wielding funny yet impractical (even by the standards of arch-villainy) weapons and also, it turns out, somewhat driven by parental approval. As part of a scheme to acquire the Shrink Ray that Gru’s big scheme requires, he adopts a trio of orphans to assist him, and the rest, I should think, is comparatively predictable.

I found Despicable Me to be a gently endearing film. If I was feeling cold hearted I would have to point out that really, there is little sense of peril at any point, that for a film about wannabe supervillians it’s a little tame, and where I expected flashes of quite dark humour there really weren’t any. Instead it’s a relaxed saunter of a film, it’s certainly making an effort over going though the motions like some of it’s peers, and the voice work, especially Carrell is pretty excellent throughout, but outside of some big laughs, and a Big Moment of Heartwarming lifted very liberally from It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s a moment I smiled through rather than laughed through.

But, this isn’t a film made for me, is it? So I’m fortunate that I have a co-reviewed in the shape of my 8-year old son, who has a much warmer opinion of the film. A lot of this is the minions; the little yellow blobs that work in Gru’s lab and are the main source of the film’s moments of slapstick comedy, clowning around, chattering incoherently, and being the subject of countless lab mishaps. They’re pretty funny, actually, and the disc contains a number of bonus shorts featuring them, which is a sign of their break-out appeal.

In fact, most of the moments that gave me a wry smile – mostly involving some sort of explosion – are big laughs at that age. Some of the more routine elements of the story aren’t so much of a cliché either. In fairness to the film I think the clichés are well executed, but for the younger audience they remain well executed, and a lot fresher along with it. And there isn’t a great deal of “winking at the parents” gags in the film either, which personally I think is a good thing, as it can be a bit wearing. I’m looking at you, Dreamworks. So, in conclusion, I enjoyed Despicable Me, albeit in an easygoing, comfy slippers sort of way. Kids, based on my survey sample of one, will get a lot more out of it, and in the end, we perhaps need to remember who these films are made for.

Despicable Me is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and 3D Blu-Ray tomorrow, 21st February 2011.

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