Radio 07.09.10
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
“Despicable Me” is the animated film whose plot is a mix of “Up,” “Scrooge,” and “Annie”:  irascible old man named Gru (the voice of Steve Carrell) shows us how mean he is by driving a tank down the street and brushing other vehicles aside.  Then he enters a coffee shop and “freezes” the other patrons while he steps to the front of the line to receive a cappuccino from the flabbergasted attendant.  But he’s more than just a rude nuisance, he’s actually a world-class villain, who plans the greatest larceny of all time:  shrink the moon, and then steal it.  He’s funded by the “evil bank” (fittingly entered into through a secret compartment behind the urinals in the men’s room) where mirthless management supports malevolent, nefarious deeds.  They try to “play off” the villainous types against each other, to maximize corporate profits (making no secret of the moviemaker’s convictions about who the bad guys really are). 
 Our anti-hero, Gru, conspires to steal technological secrets from his main competitor for the big contract, Vector (the voice of Jason Segel), and callously allows himself to act as if he’s interested in adopting orphan children, because they’ll help him gain access to his competitor’s private lair.  The orphan girls, three sisters, are sweet, but savvy, and soon realize that their sudden benefactor actually has other agendas.  But they remain their loyal, trusting, selves, even when summarily dismissed back to the orphanage, where the headmistress is cruel but answers to no one.
The 3-D effect allows for lots of visual jokes, and the animation creates opportunities for physical comedy, as well.  Our anti-hero has legions of little one-eyed minions, who bop each other constantly, Three Stooges-style, and we think it’s funny because it’s well-timed and unexpected and it doesn’t really hurt anybody. 
We all know what’s going to happen.  Despite himself, our villainous lead character finds himself beginning to care for these cute little orphan girls.  He even finds himself willing to go to their dance recital of “ Swan Lake .”  When he banishes them from his house so he can concentrate on doing his dark deeds, he finds that he misses them, and their irrepressible playfulness, and their sudden sympathies, and their hesitant affection.  Yes, despite himself, he’s becoming more human, because he’s finally learned to love.
But “Despicable Me” never descends into the syrupy-sweet, because it’s always going to revert to sight gags, and indulge in silly puns, and even regress to the old reliable:  bathroom humor.  It just refuses to take itself seriously for very long.
Sure, it’s a cartoon.  But it’s fun, it’s family-friendly, and it’s fresh material.  You could do a lot worse “at the movies.”
This is Ron Salfen, for 93.5 KICK-FM