Superheroes have had their own way at the movies for too long, says Fernando Caire. If Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud’s animated feature Despicable Me is anything to go by, supervillains are far more fun.
Look, I like superheroes. I’m a comic-book fan; The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies. But why do we never get the villain’s point of view? Let’s face it, they’re usually more interesting characters.
And it seems that animation directors agree with me. This year, two animated films were released that attempted to show things from the point of view of the bad guy: Megamind and Despicable me. But whereas Megamind felt more like a standard comic-book movie, pitting the villain against his superhero counterpart, Despicable Me focused entirely on the villains. But with so many new CG features out this year, does this Blu-ray release measure up to the best, or is it just plain despicable?
The story revolves around a malicious thief named Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell). Feeling outmatched by a new, younger villain Vector (Jason Segal) because he managed to steal a pyramid, Gru must penetrate Vector’s fortress in the cause of performing the crime of the century: stealing the moon. Due to Vector’s impenetrable security, this proves impossible… until three orphan girls get in easily to sell cookies. This sets a new plan in motion as Gru adopts the three kids just so he can use them to his own nefarious ends.
Of course, things aren’t that easy, since the three intensely independent girls turn Gru’s life upside down, destroying his things, disobeying his orders – and ultimately softening his heart in ways he never imagined possible. The story displays the progression of an evil and selfish man learning to love these children as his own and becoming a decent person. We learn about Gru’s motivation for his crimes and see that even someone as despicable as him could learn to change.
The voice talent in the movie is top notch. Steve Carell sounds nothing like his usual self, managing to fabricate the perfect Russian accent for the despicable, yet likable, Mr. Gru. Russell Brand pulls off a similar feat as Dr. Nefario, Gru’s inventor and assistant, sounding uncannily like a crazy 95-year-old man. The girls are also a treat to see as they raise all kinds of hell. But the real stars of this film are the minions.
I’m not entirely sure what the minions actually are, but I never really stopped to question it, because they’re just so entertaining to watch. Genetically engineered for the sole purpose of assisting Gru with his plots, the minions are his workforce in crime. Sadly, they are also none too bright, and often tasked with handling dangerous materials – prompting all kinds of highly explosive hilarity. They are an odd combination of mischievous and innocent, and without them the film probably would not have been half as entertaining.
The animation is very stylized but also extremely detailed. Watching the movie on Blu-ray leads to countless new discoveries within the backgrounds and the characters’ expressions – not to mention the countless gizmos Gru and Vector use as they battle it out. Where Gru is more industrial, Vector is sleek, cutting-edge and futuristic. The contrasting styles point up the age difference nicely, and it is a lot of fun to see how their inventions function. The effects are also breathtaking and though it is obvious that certain scenes were engineered with the 3-D in mind, not enough to distract you.
The extra features on the disc are heavy on additional entertainment, but lacking in insight into the art department. This is disappointing, because this movie is so rich visually, I would have loved to have seen the animation process or some concept work. All that is provided is a brief feature interviewing the actors and the directors of the film, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.
Aside from that, you get some mini-games, cookie recipes, and that’s pretty much it. The three mini-movies starring those awesome minions are great: I just would have liked to see more on the making of the film.
But even without more extra features, Despicable Me is beautiful, heartfelt and downright hilarious. The characters look fantastic, and if you aren’t laughing from beginning to end, you aren’t a true supervillain fan. What I consider to be one of the best animated films of the year looks great in high-definition, and that alone would be reason enough to buy it, if Universal didn’t also throw in a DVD copy and a digital version of the movie. Buy it as a gift and share the happiness around this holiday.
Despicable Me is out now in North America from Universal, in various permutations of one to four Blu-ray, DVD and data discs. The international release follows next year.
Buy Despicable Me on Amazon.com (Three-disc edition)