Half term must be coming up soon as here’s the first of the inevitable deluge of CGI animations released to keep the kids happy over the holidays. Telling the story of supervillain Gru and the three orphans he adopts as part of a convoluted scheme (no prizes for guessing what happens to them all at the end).
Despicable Me is the work of the screenwriters behind such unremarkable family films as Horton Hears a Who and The Santa Clause 2 and the directorial debut of a storyboard artist from the last two Ice Age films. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have an interesting group of people behind it as it also boasts a mostly French team of animators, which results in the pleasantly unusual combination of the Hollywood trappings of celebrity voice casts and product placement mixed with the crude, angular style and faintly anti-American sentiments (best demonstrated in the opening scene where an obnoxious bunch of tourists visit the pyramids) that commonly feature in French cartoons.
The voice cast boasts such familiar names to comedy fans as Steve Carrell, Jason Segal (both graduates of the Judd Apatow school) and Kristen Wiig – all likeable screen presences, although they do use the opportunity presented here to overact to an occasionally annoying degree. Surprisingly the best performances are provided by British cast members Julie Andrews (as Gru’s overbearing mother) and Russell Brand – who is more convincing as an doddering old scientist than you would expect.
Unfortunately, although the script is amusing, it does prove to be the film’s weakest link. There are numerous periods where the jokes are weak or fairly non-existant, and (even though it’s somewhat redundant pointing this out in reference to children’s films) the plot is unsurprising. This lack of originality also applies to the film’s design which often invokes memories of other, better films – for example, the backdrop which mixes the gothic with the suburban is lifted right of Lemony Snicket (as is the orphan plot), and the film’s main strength, Gru’s army of cute, amusing minions look very similar to Toy Story’s aliens (although to be fair their characterisation is borrowed more from the Rabbids that originated in the Rayman series of videogames – also a French invention – and can now be seen advertising cars). Consequently although it’ll keep the kids (and plenty of adults) entertained, it’s unlikely that the film will prove memorable after audiences have left the cinema.