By Carl Kozlowski
July 15, 2010
I'll never forget the magic of growing up watching Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and the rest of the Looney Tunes pantheon of characters each and every Saturday morning in the '70s and '80s. They all had an anarchic spirit in which wickedly funny and endlessly inventive situations paid off with body-shaking laughter that often made me roll off the couch and hit the floor in a fit of giggles.
While Pixar has pulled off even greater works of animation over the past 15 years or so with films like the Toy Story trilogy and Finding Nemo, it often seems that the surprisingly adult sense of humor and flippant use of comic violence (outside of The Incredibles) found in the best Road Runner cartoons has fallen out of use amid today's sea of CGI-animation movies. Some people even successfully managed to have scenes from many of these classics deleted for fear that they would inspire copycat violence among children, even though decades of youngsters had already enjoyed them unscathed.
That sadly gaping hole in the entertainment world has now been filled with the release of the wonderfully dark and visually stunning new film, Despicable Me. Starring the voice of Steve Carell (who pulls off a surprisingly great Eastern European accent) as a career criminal named Gru who wants to pull off the greatest robbery and ransom situation in the history of the world by attempting to steal the moon, the film reveals its fresh visual spin from the opening credits forward.
The full-bodied visuals help sell the film's dual plotlines, in which Gru faces competition in evil from his arch-nemesis, Vector, and finds his nearly forgotten heart slowly warmed by three young orphan girls he adopts initially for use in his wicked schemes. Combined with impressive voice work by an eclectic group that includes both British bad boy Russell Brand as Gru's evil mentor, Dr. Nefario, and Mary Poppins herself—Julie Andrews—as Gru's never-impressed mother and a sparkling pop score by Pharrell Williams featuring songs that recall the best of Stevie Wonder's 1970s classics, the film's attention to detail on every level pays off.
This is Universal's first foray into the modern world of feature-length computer animation, following in the footsteps of not only the aforementioned Pixar films but also Dreamworks' efforts, such as the Madagascar films. It's clearly a lucrative field to play in, but in hiring the writing team of Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul—Mormons who co-wrote the hit adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who as well as the upcoming Seuss film The Lorax, and who insist on creating family-friendly works—they also landed a film with its heart in the right place.
Despicable Me's off-kilter sense of humor and comic battle royal between Gru and Vector will keep little boys happy, while little girls will be charmed by the film's three young heroines. That smart sense of balance—in which adults will also be highly entertained, even without towing kids along—is the film's hallmark on every level and marks it as one of the most fun films of the year so far.