2010 saw the release of Despicable Me, and the infiltration of some small yellow creatures spouting an unintelligible but undeniably enjoyable language. Although the film focused on the adventures of supervillains, it was the minions that truly took over the world.
Gru (Steve Carell), bad guy extraordinaire, wants to prove himself the most villainous villain of them all. But when the younger and much more enthusiastic Vector (Jason Segel) reaches heights of fame Gru can only dream of, by stealing tourist attractions (starting with an inflatable pyramid sequence which brilliantly skewers American tourists’ behaviour in foreign lands), Gru realises he will have to up his game. Adopting three young girls and using their cookie selling as a ploy to get into Vector’s house allows Gru a chance at getting his hands on a shrink ray. Using this he can complete his most evil plan yet: stealing the moon. Gru learns a lot, and not necessarily just about being evil. Despite not getting the glowing reviews you might expect from the general press, the charm of the minions’ wacky world propelled the film to underground success – enough to earn a sequel and the soon-to-be released spin-off Minions.
A children’s film it may be, but Despicable Me does not hold back on laughs that any generation can enjoy. A lot of the action plays out like an ode to silent cinema – in particular, anything the minions get up to on each of their eagerly anticipated cutaways. The slapstick is never overdone, something the animation lends itself perfectly to, with the sequences in space and the use of the shrink ray looking wonderful on screen. People don’t really look like people, and as their bodies move in ways no human can, the image you get is so delicious it makes you want to crawl inside and walk around, exploring the pocket of suburbia in which Gru hatches his dastardly plans. This odd setting for a villain is perfectly supported by a soundtrack that includes artists such as Pharrell Williams and The Bee Gees, creating a funky score that jangles in your head long after the credits have rolled.
It’s also refreshing to see three young female characters (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) who are realistic and funny in their own right, in a genre which is often too reliant on daring adventures for little boys and princesses for little girls. True to the tone of the whole film, the girls are cute without being too sickly. They’re flawed and clearly quite annoying to parent at times, but are also loveable, with endlessly quotable lines – just like real children.
There’s something laughably wonderful about just how bad at being a bad guy Gru is. His attempts to cause chaos, such as stealing the Eiffel Tower, are often foiled by his ineptitude – he can only manage to snaffle the small one from Las Vegas. Despicable Me perfectly manages to place a supervillain into the real world: from what a mother thinks about having an evil genius for a son (disapproving that he’s not better at it), to how to care for a mutant pet 101, the rich flow of comedy stems from this examination of the logistics of how one actually goes about being evil. It’s such a wonderful idea and so self-aware of its own tropes that each time you watch it something new jumps out at you. The adoption of the girls and the effect it has on Gru has clear overtones of Annie, but even better than that, it’s referenced by the girls themselves – “when we got adopted by a bald guy… I thought it would be more like Annie.” And one of the most delicious jokes for older viewers is the fact that the real baddie of the film is the banker who lends money to the bad guys so they can carry out their evil plans.
Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Duario had previously worked on Dr. Seuss adaptation Horton Hears a Who!, and it’s apparent from their love of fun language, which flows through the film like music – expertly voiced by a crop of comedy stars, from Steve Carell and Jason Segel to Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig.
The film is ostensibly about being evil, but more than that it’s about learning to be a parent, the compromise that comes with that and the role of a father in young girls’ lives. When the girls are taken from Gru you truly feel his loss – not just the loss of the girls’ presence but of how they changed him, and what their life could have become. It’s touching and sentimental without ever going too overboard on the sweetness, because at the core of every touching scene between them, you can’t help but see a supervillain with long spindly legs and a tiny head romping around a funfair covered in face paint.
With a heart-wrenching climax that still packs in the laughs, Despicable Me manages to be the perfect mix of genuinely funny, heartwarming, and a joy to watch. We can’t wait to see what the minions get up to next.