December 13, 2010

DVD Review: Despicable Me

This is one of those movies that I thought I would pass on seeing in a theater. It looked sort cute, but bland at the same time. Over time the clips and trailers won me over, plus a few of my friends wanted to go. So, off we went. I am glad I did. It displayed an excess of cuteness and a number of laugh out loud moments. Now, while it is certainly entertaining, it was far from great. I stand by that belief and now that I have rewatched it on DVD, even the entertainment value feels somewhat diminished.

After I saw it in the theater it seemed that everyone I bumped into who saw it loved it. It was so overwhelming that I began to wonder if I enjoyed it more than I thought I did. Could it possibly be a case that I was lying to myself about how enjoyable it was? I mean, I did love the minions, but who didn't? Well, I know have a copy of the DVD in my hands and rewatched it with my family, who were watching for the first time. That was an interesting experience.

My mother actually came out ad said what I was thinking at a few points. She said "This movie is boring." And you know what? Sometimes she is right. I think it benefited greatly in theaters from being seen with large crowds. The collective experience of a roomful of strangers trumps a small intimate setting of family members, I guess.

Still, I found myself loving the scenes involving the minions, getting the "aww" moments from the little girls, and being pretty bored when it came to the plot and the rivalry between Gru and Vector. I wanted to like it more. I wanted my original assessment to be proven wrong. While I still enjoy parts of it as well as the concept of the bad guy hero, I found my enjoyment of the film to be diminished. This isn't the first time this has happened, I had a more precipitous drop in enjoyment with Happy Feet (loved in the theater, despised on home video). It is rare, but it happens. I can't be the only person this has happened to, can I?

As for the movie, Despicable Me tells of a consistently underachieving bad guy,Gru (Steve Carell), who wants to be the best villain but always comes up a little bit short. He is a villain who would be comfortable in the Looney Toons universe alongside Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, and Yosemite Sam. He is portrayed early on as a unsympathetic character, an egotistical bad guy who revels in the misery of those around him. Watch as he feigns sympathy for a young boy who's dropped his ice cream. He makes him a balloon animal, sees the boy light up and gleefully pops it and moves on his way. That's right, he is not a good guy.

It is certainly an interesting approach, having your main character be a bad guy (also used recently in MegaMind). I like it. It offers a different path into the story and helps it stand out from the crowd. Instead of a good guy who is going through a some sort of life-changing moment we get a bad guy who just wants to be considered the best at what he does and he sees three little girls as his ticket back to the top, overtaking his nemesis Vortex (Jason Segel). I am getting ahead of myself a little bit.

Gru is bad, from his dark clothes attire to his monstrosity of a car to his can't-quite-place-it accent to his use of a freeze gun to cut the coffee shop line. He has a plan to steal the moon using a variety of tools, including a shrink ray. This is to get back at Vortex for stealing his spotlight and thwarting him at every turn. With help from his Minions and three little girls he adopts from the local cookie mill, er, orphanage Gru plans to get the best of Vortex and claim his title as the top bad guy. That pretty much sums it up, simple and straightforward.

While Despicable Me definitely goes for the jugular with its entertainment value, it is not a clear cut winner. It is funny and cute only in moments where there are a lot of sequences that are just dull and lifeless. Instead of being fun all the way through I get the impression that they only had so many jokes and cute moments that why timed them out so that they could fill the whole movie then went back and added filler moments, which always seem to be plot related. It is almost like they had the jokes but no story to put them in and had to fill in all the blanks.

What bothers me most about the movie is that it feels manufactured. Yes, I understand that movies are a product of process, but the good ones feel organic. Look at your typical Pixar release (I know, it is too easy to put a film down when set next to Pixar's high standards), their films have a very natural flow to them, the character moments an comedy/action all come together in a way that feels right. The same can be said for recent Dreamworks releases like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Next to them Despicable Me feels somewhat half-baked, as if they had some great ideas and a unique entry but not enough story for a full feature. This forces the good material they have is spread thinly across the length of the film, thereby weakening the whole.

Audio/Video. The video looks pretty good. The 1.85:1 widescreen ratio image is filled with sharp, bright colors. The look of the film is not incredibly detailed, but it has enough to fill the screen and gve you something to look at, it excels in the bright colors of the world. It is very much candy-colored. Just look at the Minions and their bright yellow color. Audio is also pretty good and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It has a nice separation and good use of the surrounds, particularly in the scenes with crowds of Minions.


  • The World of Despicable Me. This is an EPK type featurette with interviews with the directors and cast members talking about this world they have created and the idea of a villain as the hero.
  • Despicable Beats. This centers on Pharrell's music. This is brief but interesting. He wrote some good music for the film, particularly Gru's theme song.
  • Gru's Rocket Builder. This is a little video game where you have to help Gru and avoid Vector. Nothing special here for anyone over 5.
  • A Global Effort. This looks at the decentralized animators and crew who worked on the film from all over the world.
  • Despicable Me Game Previews. I would have preferred some of the original trailers and TV spots.
  • Commentary. This track features directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin and features the Minions. The track is not too bad, they discuss a lot about the characters and design work. It is worth checking out.

Bottomline. This is worth seeing, don't get me wrong, it just isn't a great film. It is a highly serviceable crowd pleaser that doesn't have a mean bone in its body despite having a bad guy as your hero. I guarantee you will leave wanting to take a Minion or two with you and hoping for the best for the little girls. See it and be happy. Oh yes, Gru has a great theme song by Pharrell.

Very Mildly Recommended.

Article first published as DVD Review: Despicable Me on Blogcritics.

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