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Movie Mom

We usually just take it for granted that the villain wants to rule the world without worrying too much about why. But one of the many charms of this utterly delightful film is that we get a glimpse that is both funny and satisfying of what it is that makes not one but two super-villains so intent on being despicable.

We even get a flashback of our anti-hero, Gru (voice of Steve Carell with a Boris Badenov accent) as a child, confiding his dreams of being an astronaut to his mother (voice of Julie Andrews as Natasha!). She crushes his hopes with a cruel insult. So decades later, he is still trying to earn her respect, now as a super-thief. No matter how audacious his capers, however, she is still unimpressed. He has stolen the Jumbotron from Times Square and the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty (okay, those last two are the replicas from Vegas). But he still needs to make that one heist that will show her he can earn her respect. He could not be an astronaut and fly to the moon. So, maybe he could steal it.

And then there’s the anti-anti-hero, who has just adopted the villain name Vector. He may have a nifty name and even niftier equipment, his lair guarded by everything from heat-seeking missiles to buzz saws and a shark, and he may have just pulled off the theft of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it turns out he has some trouble pleasing his parent, too.

So it’s a race between Gru and Vector to see who can steal the moon, which first involves stealing the shrink ray they need to make it small enough to carry home. And, adorably, this requires the involvement of dozens of little yellow “minions” who look like oompa-loompas made out of marshmallow peeps and three little orphan girls who live with a Miss Hannigan-style harridan as they hope someone will give them a real home. Maybe made of gummi bears.

The resilience of the three girls (the oldest voiced by Miranda Cosgrove of “iCarly” and “School of Rock”) is a sublime counterpart to the unhappiness and insecurity of Gru and his arch-rival Vector (voice of Jason Segal), showing us that even the rottenest of circumstances does not have to make you overly vulnerable or mean. When Gru brings them home as a way of getting into Vector’s compound (his security system features missiles and a shark but he can’t resist the girls’ cookies), he is so clueless he puts out candy in a dog bowl and newspapers on the floor. But as we have glimpsed in his interaction with the minions (I loved the matter-of-fact way he knows all the names of the almost-identical horde), he is susceptible to being liked and trusted. And he slowly begins to learn that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to care; he was scared to.

Brilliant production design contrasts Gru’s goth with a touch of steampunk lair in the middle of a street of identical homes with Vector’s sleek, Apple-eseque, creamsicle-colored high-tech headquarters. The expert pacing keeps things fresh, funny, and exciting. And a twist on the usual race-to-the-big-event-to-show-your-new-found-values reminds us all that the great thing about families is you can always have a second chance.

It looks like 2010 will go down in history as the year 3D animation kicked the stuffing out of all the live-action releases. Pixar opened the door and it is a thrill to see studios like Illumination showing what they have to bring to audiences ready to accept animation as art and as heart-warming family entertainment.

And here’s a special glimpse of one of the extras on the new DVD release:

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