In which another studio shows that anything Pixar can do... well, maybe Pixar’s not a great example. Let’s go with Dreamworks. Anything Dreamworks can do, Universal now shows they can do... well, not better, per se, but certainly close to the recent quality of Dreamworks.
If that sounds like we’re damning Despicable Me with faint praise, it’s not meant to. It’s just that you can’t release an animated film these days without drawing the inevitable comparisons to Pixar et al. What’s encouraging, however, is that everybody else is getting to that sort of level, where the stories are great, the animation is impeccable and the jokes work on two levels (parent pleasing: it’s what cartoons should be made for). And saying that Despicable Me is on a par with, say, How To Train Your Dragon is a pretty blooming big compliment in my book.
Gru (Carell) is an ubervillain. To his friends – not that he has any beyond elderly sidekick Dr Nefario (bizarrely voiced by Brand) – Gru is a normal, if highly cranky, regular guy. Dig beneath the surface though – literally, his secret lair is in the basement – and you’ll discover a man who will stop at nothing to perform world-shattering acts of evil. There’s a problem though. His last few attempts haven’t been successful and the bank (the Bank of Evil, to be exact, which has a delightful punchline I won’t spoil here) won’t lend him any more money, not even when he announces his most dastardly plan yet: a plot to steal the moon.
In order to do that, you see, he’ll need a shrink ray and his arch rival Vector (Segel) has got that under lock, key, and assorted other security devices. The only people who can get through all of that are three cookie-selling orphan girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes. Realising he needs the girls, Gru adopts them, which is when he starts to realise that being a supervillain might not be as demanding, or rewarding, as being a dad.
While this dose of sentimentality is a little heavy-handed, it’s easy to forgive Despicable Me the small slip up as everything else is almost faultless. The 3D isn’t used as a distraction, just a natural enhancement, which allows you to focus on the lovely interplay between so many strong characters – the strained relationship between Gru and his mum (Andrews, somewhat bizarrely) is hilariously bitter – and, perhaps best of all, Gru’s minions, little yellow chaps who carry out his every whim. They’re the subject of so many excellent background gags, you’ll probably want to Blu-ray this in due course just to make sure you’ve got them all. With great quotable dialogue too – “it’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” – Despicable Me ticks pretty much all the boxes you could possibly want.