So, let’s see, we’ve got an Assassin’s Creed retrospective. We’ve got a Sonic the Hedgehog retrospective. Not to mention I’m in the process of playing through The Outlast games as well. Fuck-it! Let’s add in a Despicable Me retrospective, just for the Hell of it!
This one is a little bit late (considering Despicable Me 3 came out last month) but I’ve finally spaced out my scheduling to fit it in within this season of RETROSPECTIVES. It’s hard to think that Despicable Me came out (all the way) back in 2010. I remember seeing one of the original trailers for it at the cinema and wondered what the Hell it was (bare in mind the Minions were used as the publicity). However, I didn’t actually get round to watching it until 2013, the year Despicable Me 2 came out.
I was pretty much humming and harring over whether or not to attend the cinema with my partner (who absolutely loves animated films [to which I don’t, and normally have to be swayed]) to go and see the sequel. Then the first one happened to be on TV whilst I was around at her parents house and got roped into watching it. And, honestly, it wasn’t too bad. Granted, it wasn’t the best animated film I’d ever seen but it was passable.
Either-way, it was enough to make me want to give the sequel a go, and off to the cinema we went along with her grandmother (who also likes to go see bright, colourful, animated films at the cinema with my partner [maybe that definition right there is the sole reason why I dislike animated films now that I’m old-er – they lack action and grittiness]).
Despicable Me is definitely my least favourite of the main films. This is mostly because the story isn’t as well thought-out and the characters fall flat. Sure, it’s a good set-up piece but that’s all it’s really good for. It’s entertaining enough but lacks that extra something to make it a good film that I can happily return to (unlike Despicable Me 2, to which I watched over and over again when my niece went through a Minions phase [and it never lost its charm]).
Also, I don’t know whether it’s because this film was Illumination Entertainment’s first feature film, or because it’s aged since 2010, or because I wasn’t watching the film in High Definition, but Despicable Me (upon my recent viewing) looked very outdated with its animation. The colourisation alone just looked terrible, almost tacky, like the film was made on a really cheap budget. Heck, it looked less like a cinema release and more like a cheaply made animation by some third-party studio (that you’ve never heard of) that’s released solely for the bargain section of selected stores.
Plus, the animation itself didn’t look all that inspiring, with the character’s movements feeling a little off in places, almost like the animators weren’t trying to make them look organic and more like plasticine (to which Wallace and Gromit look more realistic, and they’re actually made from fucking plasticine).
But, like I said earlier, the characters do feel really flat in this first instalment. Tell a lie, Gru is a good character. As for the rest, well, they’re pretty annoying. Okay, the Minions aren’t too bad (having moments to shine here and there), and Dr. Nefario can be a good laugh, but everything else about this film is just very generic, falling flat at every turn with a by-the-book structure. It’s almost like Illumination Entertainment weren’t sure what they fully wanted to do with their characters (and it really shows).
This is probably why Despicable Me 2 is far superior because they nail the characters. It’s not even down to development, it’s simply the fact that they obviously sat down and discussed what each of their characteristics were and went from there.
Here, it’s very stereotypical, and annoying. Gru, for the most part, has a great structure as the despicable person going around being, well… Despicable. It adds in a lot of funny moments as he showcases his subtle cruelty. It’s never over-the-top, or particularly evil (in the sense that he goes around killing cats, or setting fire to orphanages [and that would be sick, and anyone who thinks that’s funny should go to their local psychiatrists to check themselves out]).
It’s rather daft things like making a boy happy (after his ice-cream falls off his cone) by making him an balloon animal, before popping it. He then freezes everyone at the coffee shop to jump the queue, before stealing someone else’s order without paying. And he goes around crashing cars in his enormous, over-the-top, villain-mobile.
You only have to look at his actual villain schemes to showcase what a pathetic villain he actually is, to the point where you wonder whether or not you can actually call Gru evil. I think a better description would be “he’s just a really unsociable and distasteful person”.
But, when a new, younger, villain comes into play (stealing the Pyramid of Giza [thus outshining Gru’s petty heists]) Gru is more determined than ever to get back on top. This results in his (questionable) scheme to steal the Moon. I get that this is an animated film but please, have some fucking logic. Fair enough if this film was completely bonkers and didn’t revolve around the realm of normal reality. But this film clearly does, so, yeah, make sense.
It’s never really brought up as to what serious damages will occur should the Moon be moved from its original orbit around the Earth, and yet all the characters involved go about like the consequences of the end of the world isn’t a big deal (but, then again, they’re villains after all [or maybe I’m just looking into this too much]).
I kind of like the fact that this scheme means a lot to Gru as (shown through flashbacks) he’s wanted to go to the Moon ever since he first saw Neil Armstrong land on the Moon back in 1969. But every time he tries to impress his mother she showed no interest and instantly discarded his creativity (Christ, if anyone’s truly despicable in this franchise it’s her [she’s such a bitch, and yet I can’t fully hate her because she’s voiced by Julie Andrews]). So it’s Gru’s determination throughout the film to achieve his goal of reaching the Moon and stealing it, thus proving he’s the world’s greatest villain.
This is all fine and dandy but the film quickly takes a turn for the worst by becoming extremely fucking irritating. Firstly, I fucking HATE (with a passion I might add) the villain of this film. Vector is an utter prick because he’s smug, and obnoxious, constantly trying to show-off and rub things in. Plus he looks like a complete tit. Gru gets the perfect opportunity to steal the shrink ray he requires to complete his mission but allows it to be stolen by Vector. Literally, him and his Minions watch it get taken from right under their noses and don’t lift a finger to stop it from happening. That’s really annoying!
What follows is a montage of Vector teasing Gru as he continuously tries to enter his lair but is thwarted by Vector’s over-the-top security. And it’s also at this point that I (once again) have to question the reality of this film because there are too many moments to count where Gru should’ve died (okay, I definitely have to declare that the Shark eating him [as childishly hilarious as it might seem for a children’s flick] would’ve without a doubt killed him) and yet doesn’t. He simply gets back up as if nothing ever happened and continues on his merry way. Plus, Vector acting like a smug twat really rubs me the wrong way.
Then enters Margo, Edith, and Agnes. They essentially become a plot tool to further Gru’s story (which [may I add] wouldn’t have needed to happen if Gru wasn’t so incompetent in the first place). Thus enters the forced story-arc of Gru learning how to be a good person through becoming a father to three little orphans. Gru adopts Margo, Edith, and Agnes to use them to get into Vector’s lair, but over time becomes attached to them. Now, on the surface this seems rather harmless and sweet in his development as a character. But, it’s the way it comes about which makes me wonder whether I should be rooting for this change.
Think about it. Gru’s ambition throughout the film was to be the world’s greatest villain, and achieve his childhood goal of stealing the Moon (to which him and Dr. Nefario have been working their arses off to do for many years now). So, is it a good thing to see him throw all that away to do something that he’s never wanted to do before, thus to just make him a better person? The whole redemption thing quickly falls flat on its face when you look at like this.
Plus, the girls are utterly annoying in this film. They have very little character, and there’s little reason to care for them. If anything, you just want them out of the way because they act like selfish little brats that constantly interfere with Gru’s work. So, tell me again why I should be rooting for him to play happy family with these children? At least in Despicable Me 2 when Gru has become the good guy, and has become a loving father, the characters have been neatly developed to accommodate this existence, thus it feels genuine (and I’m totally invested in watching them interact with one another).
As I keep saying, Despicable Me is rather underdeveloped with its characters and just uses them for laughs rather than tell a really interesting, and engaging story. I mean, it would be far more appealing if there was some kind of motivation for Gru’s change of heart, but there isn’t. At least, not really. It’s only when you look deep into it that you might detect a hint as to why he wants to throw everything away to become Margo, Edith, and Agnes’ father. If you look at the flashbacks and purely concentrate on the neglecting of his childhood, then maybe (just maybe) you start to see some comparison between Gru and the girls.
They are both rather strange, and mischievous, but (above all) have been neglected by adults. Perhaps if you look at it this way you can see why Gru might look at them and feel some form of connection. But since the flashbacks purely concentrate on Gru’s obsession with going to the Moon (and using his mother’s neglect as a means of comedy [rather than something serious like it should be because it’s horrible]) I’m more inclined to day that there isn’t any reason as to why Gru would have a change of heart.
Thus, the change ends-up becoming an inconvenience to the film, radically changing our protagonists’ character to accommodate some sort of childish life-lesson (which ultimately drags the narrative down to the most basic level of entertainment). Don’t get me wrong, it is really sweet seeing Gru all happy as he begins to bond with the girls (best shown with his transition at the fair ground where he defends Agnes against the crooked carnival barker [thus getting her a unicorn teddy in the most spectacular fashion] to which even Margo respects).
You really do feel happy for Gru. But, the transition doesn’t make much sense because it has no real backing. It just happens because the narrative says so. Looking past the flaws in the development and you do have a semi-entertaining narrative with a bit of heart. Of course it would be made much better if the characters weren’t inconsistent, and incompetent with their actions.
Gru does it a second time when he simply allows the girls to be taken from him despite never asking for them to be taken back to the orphanage (instead, being a part of Dr. Nefario’s despicable scheme to make Gru realise the girls are a distraction to his true goals in life). This all just leaves me puzzled as to what Gru’s motivations really are, and what sub-plot I’m supposed to be rooting for.
I’m I supposed to want him to become the world’s greatest villain [which he’s been wanting since the beginning of the film] or for him to become a father to Margo, Edith, and Agnes [which only came about part way through the film]?
After being forced to watch the most blandest, and forced, life-lesson segment so that Gru can finally learn what he wants in life (which, again, falls flat because of the lack of motivation) we have a decent-enough finale were Gru battles against Vector after he kidnaps the girls (all for the sake of possessing the Moon from Gru). Despite my grudges with the film’s lack of understanding in tone and psychics I will let the fact that Gru can dodge missiles and knock a shark out with a single punch slide simply because it’s fucking badass.
It’s within this final segment that we see Gru at his purest as he declares his love for the girls by risking everything to save them from Vector’s clutches. But it isn’t really much of a final battle because Vector is a pathetic specimen. Instead, the segment cleverly concentrates on the peril of the moment (caused by natural occurrences) and Gru’s determination to save the girls from harm. At the very least Vector gets what he deserves by dying a horrible death (yes, I know, he doesn’t physically die onscreen but he will eventually run out of air on the Moon).
Despicable Me is okay. I mean JUST okay. It doesn’t do anything overly bold, the narrative is rather basic, and the characterisation is weak because of continuous inconsistency and totally lacks any solid motivation. Needless to say, I don’t return to this film very often (probably not even “once in a blue Moon”) because I just find it quite boring. But, at the very least, it started a decent-enough franchise which brought me one of my favourite animated films of all times (and a fun ride at Universal Studios Florida).