Illuminating Illumination – Despicable Me (2010) Review

Rating: 7/10

Plot: An aspiring supervillain, Gru, adopts three young girls to unwittingly help him with his plan to steal the moon. While initially using the girls as tools for his scheme, Gru finds himself rather liking fatherhood, though he’d be hardpressed to admit it. Still, the life of a villain and the life of a father don’t mix. It’s either shoot for the moon or follow your heart.

Breakdown: Illumination! They’re sure a company alright……

I have nothing against Illumination, really I don’t, but they always seemed like the animation company out of the big-wigs to be solely focused on money. There’s nothing wrong with that, they are a company afterall, but there’s something inherently…..artificial about nearly all of their movies. There’s never been much heart to them. And that’s before we get to the over-commercialization of nearly all of their properties. Do I need to bring up The Lorax being whored out to any company who would give them a buck, including a damn car company? The cognitive dissonance there was astounding.

And no.

No.

I’m not forgetting the minions.

It’s hard to avoid the flood of minions that came as a result of this franchise to the point where even a movie was made based on the little yellow pill bugs that ended up being, and I’m not kidding here, Illumination’s most successful movie to date. I don’t dislike the minions, I actually find them kinda cute and funny, but oversaturation can make anything a living nightmare.

The minions have become so front and center to this franchise that most of the current DVD and Blu-Ray box covers for the movies either feature them prominently with Gru and the girls in the background or it’s just the minions. There was one box art cover that was literally just one minion taking up the entire space.

But hey, they make the money.

Illumination is really is good at making money. Even their worst film by far, Hop, which I won’t be reviewing because it’s not animated, made more than three times its budget back. They’re a company that tends to know what they’re doing. They’re not out to make incredibly impacting stories or mind-blowing cinematic experiences – they’re out to make money. I can’t damn them for that, but I can give appropriate criticisms to their work.

Which leads us to our feature film.

Despicable Me is another one of those movies people would probably be surprised to hear that I’ve never seen before now. I never had much of an interest is all. No one’s ever told me that I had to see this movie for any reason or heard so many people quoting it or referencing it that my curiosity peaked. I’ve seen bits and pieces on TV before and it failed to hold my attention long enough for me to stay on that channel.

Who can really blame me? I mean, look at that plot synopsis and tell me you can’t give me a full explanation of what happens in this movie just by reading that paragraph. Not that being predictable is entirely a bad thing as long as you add substance and style to it, but this movie really does hit every beat you expect it to. About the only thing that surprised me even a little was that Vector, the antagonist, was actually a serious antagonist and THE main antagonist for the movie.

Not that that counted for much either considering he was a very predictable antagonist once it’s revealed that he is a serious threat, and that happened very early in the movie.

I actually got annoyed at the predictability at one point. Vector kidnaps the girls and holds them hostage so Gru will give him the moon. I said, out loud, “He’s not going to give the girls back once the moon is his, is he?” He, of course, doesn’t, but what irked me was, as he revealed he was doing this and was leaving Gru to his own devices, he yelled out ‘UNPREDICTABLE!’ I nearly had the pause the movie there because I wanted to slap somebody. Yes, it’s so unpredictable to do the exact thing expected of the villain in that exact situation.

Then, later, there’s a scene where Gru’s trying to save the girls from Vector’s ship midair and again, I said, out loud, “Vector’s going to show up and grab the girls before they jump, isn’t he?” Sure enough, I was right again.

While it was also par for the course that Gru had a somewhat sad childhood, that being his mother rarely ever paying attention to him, I felt like the role of his mother was kinda weird. They pepper flashbacks throughout the movie of Gru trying to impress his mother and her responding with ‘Meh.’ over and over, to everything. So, of course, he develops a complex about it. It’s even kinda implied that maybe Gru would’ve become a legitimate scientist or astronaut or something if his mother actually supported him. Instead, he became a supervillain and she’s still not impressed.

She randomly appears in the middle of the movie in present day, somehow knowing Gru adopted three girls, and the first thing she does when she arrives is show the girls a bunch of Gru’s baby pictures, which doesn’t line up with what we knew of her to this point. How do you go from a mother who seems to give zero shits about her son to her instantly visiting when she finds out he adopted kids and jumping at the chance to show them a ton of pictures of lil Gru?

Finally, she shows up at the end of the movie to watch the girls do ballet and she tells Gru he’s a good parent, probably even better than she was, and…I guess that’s the end of that arc? It felt like they skipped a bunch of development there. Just she was a crappy mom and now she’s a good grandma and passable mom?

So…..guess what the movie ends with.

A dance party.

Because someone at some point during the 2000s made a rule that all mediocre animated movies have to end in dance parties.

I want to make it clear that I didn’t dislike this movie. I knew what I was getting into from the start and it pretty much met expectations.

It’s an okay movie. The story’s predictable as hell, but the comedy is decent. The heartwarming moments go toe-to-toe with the sad moments, but neither really go far enough to pluck any heartstrings. There is nothing explicitly bad about the movie outside of its predictability. Even its art and animation stand up pretty well after nearly a decade. The voice acting is also pretty good. Steve Carell as Gru really ran with his character and even though the girls could sometimes be obnoxious, they were pretty realistically portrayed and well acted.

In fact, let me give this movie some more slack. There were some aspects that strayed away from the norm that made this experience a little better for me.

First of all, even though the minions are still, well, minions, it’s very obvious that Gru cares about all of these little guys. He treats them like family instead of abusing them left and right like most villains would do. I really appreciated that. The abusive asshole aspect would have made it harder to accept Gru as a good guy and would have made the movie feel more mean-spirited.

Secondly, despite his follies, Gru is a very competent supervillain. It’s just that circumstances tend to kick him in the ass sometimes.

Thirdly, they didn’t viciously harp on the girls’ orphan status as much as I thought they would. They had every opportunity in the world to play the ‘our parents used to (blank)’ card many times and they didn’t even really bring up their biological parents. To be honest, I’m not even sure if these girls are related at all and they seem to be the only kids at this orphanage barring one other girl we see in the box of shame.

They did kinda play up the fact that their orphanage is shitty place, though. The person who runs the orphanage is a total bitch who forces the girls to sell cookies door to door for the sake of the orphanage’s profit. She’s not physically abusive, but she is emotionally abusive. I wouldn’t say she’s bad enough for me to get into hatred territory, though. She’s a bitch, no doubt about that, but it’s like they wanted Delores Umbridge and got her more mellow second cousin twice removed.

Finally, Dr. Nefario, Gru’s right-hand man and head scientist, had a pretty good role and relationship with Gru. He didn’t hate the girls or even hate that Gru was showing signs that he wanted to be a dad – he just knew what their goals were and wanted to keep Gru on track. I do kinda resent him for sending the girls away behind Gru’s back, but he randomly decided to help save the girls in the end so I guess it’s all good.

In the end, it’s very much an okay movie. I probably won’t get the urge to watch it again anytime soon, but I would consider leaving it on if I saw it while flipping through channels.

I suppose I picked a good time to watch this, too, considering that the latest Despicable Me movie, Minions: The Rise of Gru, is coming out this July and there’s a Despicable Me 4 on the production slate down the line (Even though, if you count the Minions movies as being Despicable Me movies, which you probably should, that means that title should technically be Despicable Me 6….Yikes.)

Recommended Audience: There’s some questionable humor here and there, usually relegated to potty humor, but there is one joke where Edith, the middle kid, gets caught in an iron maiden, there’s a puddle of ‘blood’ that pools as a result and Gru brushes it off. It’s just her punctured juice box, but I was still pretty shocked they put in such a joke.

There’s also a moment where Gru makes the girls shaped pancakes and Edith’s (It should be noted that Edith has a thing for violence and the like) is a dead body that I’m almost certain was meant to be dead from a gunshot wound considering the hole in its chest…

Other than that, nothing really. 7+


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