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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp


despicableme_posterThe issue with Despicable Me isn’t so much that it’s a good, albeit mediocre, kids film but it is the film’s contentment with just being average that genuinely holds the movie back from being anything more than forgettable.

With Steve Carell starring as our baddie with a soft spot for small girls, Gru, and Jason Segel as a true nemesis for our nemesis, Vector, the perceived talent is ultimately wasted on a script that depends too much on forced sentimentality where there is none and a sub-plot that seems wholly inserted just to pad out a story that is wafer thin as it already is.

Primarily, the tale of an evil mastermind who adopts three orphans under false pretenses in order to get at Vector, a new villain who is usurping this old man at every opportunity, and who surreptitiously steals an item that Gru himself was pilfering at the time, goes nowhere. As that plot fizzles like a wet bottle rocket, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (both of Horton Hears a Who! and The Santa Clause 2 notoriety) insert these three orphan girls as a way to build a story about self-confidence and caring. The girls, as well, have become the centerpiece of a marketing plan that finally was able to shed some light on the question many people have had as this film neared release: What is this movie about?

Truly, this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be about, quite honestly. At one time it’s a cheeky throwback to spy films long gone, Carell rolling out his best Boris impersonation from Rocky and Bullwinkle, while¬† at other times it’s a hackneyed yarn about what it means to feel compassion and love when all you’ve known is how to be a villain. Believe me, the irony of the screenwriters ripping a thematic page out of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas after they themselves worked on a Seuss adaptation isn’t lost on me but the story is as translucent as its characters. Segel for his part proves you don’t need any finesse, or subtlety for that matter, in order to voice a character in an animated film. His speaking parts seem out of place with the mouth moving on the screen as there is no inflection, no passion for creating a truly obnoxious Bill Gates-ian kind of villain. This only compounds the real problem of this movie and it’s that in an age where every single animated movie is falling short of its Pixar counterpart you are witness to the disparities in quality from one film to another. Like an essay in school that needed to be compared and contrasted, you can see that while the animation is somewhat on par there is a reason those lamp loving animators are going home with golden statuettes year after year after year.

For example, in Toy Story 3, the moment when Buzz and Woody are in danger of being melted like marshmallows at a campfire. The music by Michael Giacchino complements the emotional punch that’s tightly shot by director Lee Unkrich. It works to draw your feelings out because everything was accounted for and executed right. Contrasting that, we get moments between Gru and the orphans that don’t earn their emotional cash-in. The composition by Heitor Pereira doesn’t work or help tie anything together in a meaningful way. It’s as if you have all these moving pieces that want to act independently of one another and what you get is exactly what this is and that’s a mediocre movie that thinks it wants to be a movie about overcoming past emotional roadblocks or a movie about turning a corner in your life in order to love something other than yourself or it’s a movie about these small little yellow creatures called minions.

But let’s talk about the minions for a moment. All things being equal, the minions would still edge out everything else in this film for bring the funniest thing your kids will see this month. These adorable little creatures thankfully steal the movie away from all of their co-stars and they barely are able to say a word. Who cares about wondering why there are dozens of them scurrying about, the true delight is that they bring so much levity and slapstick humor to a movie that desperately needed it. It’s the minions who ought to have been the focus of the film, the story from their perspective would have such a more interesting creation than we have here which is all about Gru’s obsession to shrink the moon to show the world his capacity for true evil, but I understand the aim of the film. It’s not looking to reshape animation or redefine it in any way, I get that, but when you have others in this animated space showing you how films like this can be done you have to be disappointed when films like this fall just short of the mark.

Not that any of this matters, I get that as well. The movie will make millions upon millions and will probably result in sequels and spin-offs galore. (I’ll be anxiously awaiting a poorly animated Nickelodeon series based on the lives of the minions which will probably be truly awful as they’re the edgiest thing about this film) Success here is absolutely quantifiable and that is why this movie is an unquestionable hit. I may not like the way it meanders towards an ending we all see coming from the moment this film begins but the kids will enjoy it for what it is while I see it for exactly what it is.


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