Rating: 3 stars out of 5
With so many excellent animated films in cinemas in the last several years, expectations are often very high indeed with each new addition to the genre.
The latest, Despicable Me, is the first effort from Illumination Entertainment, the animation subsidiary of Universal Studios, headed by former 20th Century Fox Animation chief Chris Meledandri.
Meledandri had overseen hit animated films such as Ice Age, The Simpsons Movie, Horton Hears a Who! and the live-action-CGI-hybrid Alvin and the Chipmunks.
What’s more, Despicable Me has a stellar vocal cast in Steve Carell, tween idol Miranda Cosgrove (of iCarly fame), Jason Segel, Russell Brand, and legendary actress Julie Andrews.
So yes, expectations were suitably amped up in anticipation of this release. While it is very much child friendly, and features a handful of inspired moments of comedy, Despicable Me never reaches the lofty targets set by its more illustrious peers.
Like last year’s Planet 51, this animated pictureplays it mostly safe as it appeals more to the little tykes and does not bother to ingrain as much cross-over appeal to adult audiences as one might have expected.
This cutesy film may not contend for the Best Animation Oscar next year, but that does not mean it doesn’t have its bright spots.
The story follows a bored middle-aged man named Gru (Carell), an oafish super-villain in a world that appears devoid of super-heroes, whose ambition has been extinguished presumably from past success and a perpetual lack of competition.
Enter Vector, a nerdy, obnoxious new super-villain on the block (Segel) who perpetrates an attention-grabbing crime of epic proportions by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Jealous and shaken from his stupor, Gru announces to his minions – a seemingly endless assortment of Twinkie-like yellow henchmen – that he intends to reclaim his title as pre-eminent ‘bad guy’ with his own crime of the century: stealing the moon!
To do so, he schemes to adopt a trio of orphan girls (Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier) who can help him infiltrate Vector’s lair in order to snag a shrink ray.
Predictably, his cold, cold heart is melted by the adorable, and persistent young ones, and Gru has to decide between being a great super-villain and becoming a great dad.
The problem that plagues this film is that none of its characters, on their own, are particularly engaging, and the onscreen personas of Carell, Segel, Brand and even Cosgrove are nowhere near as likeable or funny as most others they’ve played in their careers.
Very often, the energy level of the film sags while Gru monologues or the story shifts to the three girls. There is a fine, breezy soundtrack by R&B artist Pharrell that helps in this respect, especially with his bubbly track Fun Fun Fun – but this is not a cure-all.
Most of the time, the film relies on childish, slapstick humour derived from the shenanigans of the minions to pick up the slack in terms of story and character development. Be that as it may, the film’s one big, laugh-out-loud moment can be credited to two minions finding their way in the dark.
As for the 3D experience, one roller-coaster scene during a family-bonding sequence at an amusement park gives audiences a real heart-thumping thrill ride to justify wearing the glasses.
In a nutshell, those looking for wholesome family fare, younger children included, should find this film sufficiently entertaining. On the other hand, adults who have been spoilt by more ambitious products may find themselves a little stiff and cold, even without having been zapped by a freeze ray.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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