Monday, August 02, 2010

Despicable Me / *** (PG)

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Featuring the voice talents of:
Gru: Steve Carell
Vector: Jason Segel
Dr. Nefario: Russell Brand
Margo: Miranda Cosgrove
Edith: Dana Gaier
Agnes: Elsie Fischer
Gru’s Mom: Julie Andrews
Mr. Perkins: Will Arnett
Miss Hattie: Kristen Wiig

Universal Studios presents a film directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. Written by Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul, and Sergio Pablos. Running time: 95 min. Rated PG (for rude humor and mild action).

“Despicable Me” is really not all that despicable. No, it’s adorable! Ugh! Eww! I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Whatever. It’s a good movie, fun for the kids. Nothing much new, but well made.

It follows the life of an evil mastermind, a typical cartoon villain. Well, let’s back up a bit. Gru (voiced by Steve Carell, “The Office”) is hardly typical, even though the transformation he goes through in this movie is. He is certainly not evil, although he seems to wish he were at first. The criminal mastermind world is apparently cutthroat, and Gru may become old news to the world at large if he cannot top a new evil mastermind named Vector (Jason Segel, “How I Met Your Mother”) who has stolen one of the pyramids.

Gru decides to steal the moon. The only problem with his plan is that it requires a shrink gun, which Vector steals from him before he can get the financial backing necessary from the head of the Bank of Evil (Will Arnett, “Monsters vs. Aliens”). Yes, the financial crisis even threatens to thwart the evil plans of the world’s greatest criminal minds.

Gru discovers Vector has a weakness for cookies sold door-to-door by three orphans and hatches a plan to adopt the orphans so he might gain access to Vector’s impenetrable fortress, or house, to steal the gun back. These masterminds’ houses are where the filmmakers cull much of their comedy for the film, making these abodes parodies of the typical James Bond villain’s lair. Vector has a giant shark that swims under the glass floor of his living room. Gru has a ridiculously complicated contraption that takes him from his house’s main level to his secret underground lair.

Anyway, the three orphan girls are too cute for Gru or the audience to resist and it soon becomes apparent that Gru will learn to become a parent. Did you see what I did there? Huh? Like I said, where the story goes isn’t really much of a surprise, but the filmmakers give us a good show getting there.

Even more impressive than the potential theft of the moon is this race of minions Gru has created. They all seem to have different personalities. There seems to be thousands of them faithfully following Gru, even though he sometimes tortures them testing out new evil equipment. They seem to have developed their own language and yet understand English perfectly well. They’re really quite amazing and certainly the most impressive accomplishment on Gru’s evil resume. 

That about covers it for this enjoyable enough family film. I want take the rest of my space to discuss 3D. It seems every CGI film released by Hollywood automatically comes out in the 3D format now. That’s reasonable enough, I suppose; but in the past several months, as the Hollywood and exhibitor machines have been pushing their full force behind this new format, 3D has come under a good deal of attack from the critical community as a whole. This is mostly due to the unfortunate decision of some studios to capitalize on the higher priced 3D tickets by converting live action movies filmed in 2D to a 3D format. This ill-advised move has resulted in lackluster 3D effects on blockbusters like “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender”. In turn, this has brought derision on the format as a whole.

The first couple of films I saw in the 3D format were fairly impressive in their use of the 3D effects, without a reliance on those effects to tell good stories. This year, however, has seen a deluge of entries into the format that have garnered 3D the label of “gimmick.”  Most of the animated fare being offered up in 3D does not really utilize the format to the great effect that James Cameron’s “Avatar” did. He used the format to suggest the awkwardness of a zero gravity environment, to highlight the gargantuan machines of the humans and their impact on an alien planet, and to accentuate the beauty of that planet’s unique characteristics. Most 3D endeavors, however, are not this bold in their use of the extra dimension.

Take “Despicable Me” as an example. The 3D format is totally unnecessary here to suggest anything that couldn’t otherwise be suggested in two dimensions. There are some sequences where the filmmakers use the format as a gimmick to shove objects in the audience’s faces, such as when the nose of Gru’s airplane stops seemingly inches from our own noses. During the closing credits some of Gru’s minions have a contest to see who can get the closest to the “camera.” But these are merely gimmicks, add nothing to the film as a whole, and will not enhance the 2D format of the final DVD version.

There are a couple of sequences here that do utilize the 3D format well, such as the first shot of Gru’s minions working in his secret lair, or the rollercoaster ride, which achieves the effect of feeling like a real rollercoaster ride. But these sequences don’t have much of an impact on the story as a whole, and don’t carry a significant influence on the entire film. Until filmmakers can learn to incorporate 3D into the artistic impact of the film, 3D will remain a mere gimmick; and the more Hollywood forces 3D upon its own output, the more likely they are to turn audiences against the format all together.

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