Despicable Me is a perfect example of a great animated film that is just as entertaining for adults as it is for children. Not that it has much in the way of “adult” themes or jokes that go over the heads of younger viewers, although there are a few of these as well as some darker themes. But mainly because it is a well put together film with strong characters, convincing voice acting and a decent plot. It is consistently funny without ever feeling like it is trying hard or spending time setting up a specific gag.
Gru is an evil genius, a criminal mastermind with schemes and plans on a par with the greatest of Bond villains. But he is also something of a gentleman criminal. He steals things not for profit but for kudos and would never think of selling a stolen Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty or Times Square jumbotron. He cares only about the respect of his fellow criminals, his employees and, of course, his mother who naturally is never impressed with anything that he achieves. Indeed, even when he is in dire financial straits after being refused a loan to finance his latest plan from the Bank of Evil, Gru doesn’t even think of stooping to criminal activity for profit. OK, he does steal things that advance his plans but he only steals exactly what he needs to complete his larger scheme. The writers could easily have had him rob a few banks or ransom some famous landmarks to finance his larger schemes but this would be totally out of character.
Gru has more similarities with (early) James Bond than Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He loves gadgets and over the top complicated plans. He even has his own mad scientist Q type and a department of minions to build all his gadgets for him. Unusually for a movie villain, even in children’s films, Gru really seems to care for his subordinates and looks after them as if they are members of his family.
When Gru realises that he needs some innocents to help him infiltrate his enemy’s base, he hatches a plan to “borrow” some children from the local orphanage to unwittingly help him out and then dump them when he has achieved his goal. Of course he wasn’t planning on them infiltrating his life and his heart which is of course exactly what they do. If that sounds a bit sickly then in places it is after all it is a kids film in the end. But mainly it is a well written and well paced laugh out loud comedy and it is often the characters of the children and their antics that really make a scene work.
The early parts of the film go out of their way to paint Gru as truly despicable, scaring children, intimidating people and destroying property just because he likes doing it. This sequence is great fun and sets a nice slightly dark tone for the film from the start but is actually very misrepresentative of Gru’s character. Since the main theme of the film is his transformation from evil genius to family man this may be a deliberate attempt to emphasise the change but it feels far too abrupt.
The girls are of course one of the most important elements of the film. It is their sudden intrusion into Gru’s life, partly through his own scheming, that begins the transformation of his character that the whole movie is all about. Interestingly, while we watch the children find their way into Gru’s heart, it is actually Gru that finds his way into the hearts of the viewers. The children are so cute anyway that only a truly despicable monster could fail to love them.
Margo, the eldest, is world weary and cynical beyond her years. She doesn’t expect things to turn out nice for her but knows that she has to go out and get what she wants for herself. She still has hope though. Edith, the middle child, is more bitter and twisted than her older sister and she is as likely to kick you in the shin as she is to give you a hug. She is perhaps the most unfazed by Gru’s laboratories, gadgets and guns. Agnes, the youngest, is still full of innocence and hope. She loves Gru unquestioningly from the moment this strange man appears at the orphanage to be her father. Agnes is truly fearless and has an all conquering obsession with unicorns and all things fluffy. Hearing her exclaim “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” is one of the highlights of the film and always brightens our day.
The Minions of course have received a lot of attention recently with their own film and plenty of merchandise, they definitely seem more well known and loved than the other characters from this film. I think that this is a bit of a shame really. Sure the minions are really funny and their misunderstandings, slapstick comedy and half understood exclamations add to the hilarity of many great scenes. But really it is the 4 main human characters who drive the story and engage our interest.