“Despicable Me” draws inevitable comparisons to “Megamind”: Two animated films about supervillains-turned-heroes came out in 2010. I loved “Megamind” so I was curious to see how “Despicable Me” would stack up. It’s a close race.
“Despicable Me”‘s main protagonist is Gru (Steve Carell, almost unrecognizable with his faux-Slavic accent), a washed-up supervillain who lives in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. When rival supervillain and Bill Gates-lookalike Vector (Jason Segel) steals the Great Pyramid of Gaza, Gru’s professional reputation is at stake. Goaded on by his Twinkie-like minions and ancient mad scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), Gru decides to kidnap the moon.
Gru is not a nice person. He kidnaps (and possibly kills) dogs, he mocks children, and he thinks nothing of adopting three adorable moppets and manipulating them into stealing a shrink ray from Vector. Said moppets consist of sensible and eldest Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), toughie Edith (Dana Gaier), and adorable Agnes (Elsie Fisher). The three girls are not particularly fleshed out – Edith is practically silent – but you get the impression that it takes three adorable kids to make us forget that Gru’s kind of a jerk.
What’s more surprising is how “Despicable Me” points the finger at the disparity between old and new villainy. Gru is quaint in his anachronistic ways, from his house to his super-weapons, and he takes on the role of a benevolent boss to his adoring minions. His biggest flaw appears to be his European heritage, a bygone relic of global politics that no longer apply. Gru’s form of evil has been unseated by corporations, by technology, and most of all by banks. The Bank of Evil, to be precise, who is only willing to fund nefarious plans led by younger villains – and if there happens to be a bit of nepotism involved, so much the better.
Of course, we know that Gru will come to love the three little tikes, that he will rise to the occasion to defend them, and that he will have to make a choice between his supervillain ambitions and his new role as a guardian.
Unlike “Megamind,” which contrasted Gen X and Gen Y superhero archetypes, “Despicable Me,” is much more interested in entertaining the kiddies. The minions are pure audience fodder, there to act as slapstick asides when the action lags. Other than his fondness for aquatic animal-based weaponry and his Microsoft-stylized lair, Vector has no character development. And the issue of Gru’s archvillainy is sidestepped by incompetence, not because he truly has a change of heart.
But then, “Despicable Me” was never interested in changing the world. It’s content to settle for the moon. And with its marginally scaled-down ambitions, that’s enough for most kids (and their parents).
Want more? Subscribe to this column; follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and the web; buy my books: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, The Well of Stars, and Awfully Familiar.